Healthy Duke Johnson back on track

HALLANDALE, Fla. -- It didn't take long for highly-touted athlete Randy "Duke" Johnson (Miami, Fla./Norland) to make his presence known during Saturday's tryouts for the South Florida Express 7-on-7 team and show everyone that he's back to 100 percent after playing much of the season with injuries to his shoulder and hamstring.

"I'm all healed up and the world isn't ready for a healthy Duke," Johnson said.

Wearing a large Miami Hurricanes headband, the 5-foot-9, 175-pounder was electric during individual drills and especially one-on-ones.

"It's easy to see that Duke is the best running back in South Florida," said defensive back Amos Leggett (Miami, Fla./Gulliver Prep). "Just look at him right now."

With a reputation that goes back to his days of playing youth football, it was a easy choice to invite Johnson to become a participant in the 2012 Under Armour All-America Game and the running back happily accepted.

"This is truly a big honor for me because this is the game I wanted to be a part of," Johnson said.

Johnson committed to Miami back in September and helped lead Norland to the Class 3A state championship game. As Norland's starting running back, cornerback and long snapper, Johnson also lined up in the slot in empty-back formations and returned kicks.

In the state championship game, a 44-34 loss to Jefferson (Tampa, Fla.), Johnson was only able to play about 40 percent of the snaps but he rushed for 135 yards on eight carries, had a reception for 17 yards, a 56-yard kickoff return and a 51-yard interception return.

Despite his stats, Johnson said he only remembers the scoreboard.

"It was frustrating to leave the field without winning a state title," Johnson added. "I won't forget that feeling until we win this year. It's like it happened yesterday. Everything I do right now is preparing for a state championship."

Even during tryouts for the South Florida Express, Johnson played like it was the final quarter of a championship game.

"Whenever a key play is being made for Norland it's going to be Duke Johnson getting it done," said Miami Herald reporter Larry Blustein. "I've been watching Duke since he was a young kid in the youth leagues and he's always been a star. The Under Armour game got a terrific talent."

Since the season ended, Johnson has been working to get his health back and getting familiar with the new Miami staff -- a group that he is expecting big things from.

"I like the new staff and I've had a chance to speak to [coach Al Golden]," Johnson said. "I think he's a good guy and he's going to continue to recruit good players so we can get back to the Miami of old."

Johnson's best position at the next level might be cornerback, but he'd like to get the opportunity to play offense first.

"I definitely want the opportunity to have the ball in my hands so I can make things happen," Johnson said. "But I will play anywhere on the field they need me."

Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at coreyespn@gmail.com.