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The Duke of Coral Gables

By David Villavicencio
HurricaneSports.com

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The Miami Hurricanes have a long tradition of homegrown talent showcasing itself on the football field.

Canes legends like Michael Irvin, Sean Taylor, Jonathan Vilma, Santana Moss and Bennie Blades are just a handful of South Florida natives who shined while donning Miami’s orange and green.

Over the course of the 2013 football season, HurricaneSports.com will honor a Hurricane football player with South Florida ties as the Milam’s Market Homegrown Athlete of the Week. This week’s player spotlight is Miami native Duke Johnson.

Duke.

The Duke of Coral Gables.

El Duque.

No matter what you call him, sophomore running back Randy “Duke” Johnson Jr. has made a name for himself as one of the most electrifying players in college football.

Johnson, who earned numerous All-America honors as a freshman at Miami, was making plays long before he set foot in Coral Gables.

A Miami native, Johnson was a standout at local power Miami Norland High School. In just his senior season, the explosive and elusive runner compiled 1,957 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns and 14 receptions for 232 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Also an elite return man, Johnson tallied three kickoff returns and one punt return for scores in his final season with the Vikings.

Norland, which has produced several Hurricanes standouts including current offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, defensive lineman Kareem Brown and tight end Richard Gordon, finished 14-0 and won the Class 5A state championship in Johnson’s senior season.

A 2012 Under Armour All-American, Johnson was the No. 1 running back prospect in the nation and one of the top recruits regardless of position. His exceptional talent and proven success at the prep level helped him garner the attention of every major college football program in the country. But Johnson knew there was just one perfect fit for him to get a quality education and play college football: Miami.

Like most highly-touted recruits, major expectations were waiting for Johnson when he arrived at Miami. The Hurricanes have produced numerous star running backs, including Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore, and Johnson was expected to be the next great back at The U.

While the hype surrounding Johnson was great, the 5-foot-9 running back lived up to expectations as a freshman. Johnson appeared in all 12 games at running back and kick returner, making five starts.

Johnson enjoyed arguably the greatest freshman season in Miami history, rushing for a freshman-record 947 yards and 10 touchdowns. He set the UM single-season record with 892 kick return yards and two touchdowns and compiled 2,060 all-purpose yards – second-most in program history.

College football pundits across the country took notice of Johnson’s ability and recognized him as one of the top young players in the game. He was named to three separate All-America teams, earned Freshman All-America honors from four different publications.

Johnson also earned four All-ACC honors, including two first team selections, and was named the 2012 ACC Overall & Offensive Rookie of the Year by both the ACSMA and the conference coaches. Duke was also named the ACC Freshman of the Year by The Sporting News and was the 2012 Special Teams Player of the Year.

After such an amazing start to his collegiate career, Johnson has continued to shine for the Canes as a sophomore.

Duke rushed for a career-high 186 yards in the season-opener against FAU, notching the seventh 200+ all-purpose yard game of his career. He also has passed the 1,000 career rushing yard mark this season, becoming the 39th 1,000 yard rusher in school history.

A week later, Johnson scored from two yards out with 3:29 remaining in the game to help seal Miami’s 21-16 victory over No. 9 Florida.

Johnson also turned in big games against USF, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, helping the Hurricanes open the season 7-0 for the first time since 2003. Duke played a big role in Miami’s victory over the Demon Deacons, rushing for 169 yards and two touchdowns on a career-high 30 carries in the comeback win.

He also became one of just 19 running backs in program history to surpass the 1,600-yard mark and passed Chuck Foreman, Don Bosseler and Warren Williams on the all-time rushing list to move to 16th all-time. 

Johnson will look to continue his success in this week’s highly-anticipated matchup against No. 3 Florida State and throughout the remainder of Miami’s 2013 schedule.