“Duke just smiled.”
Johnson, who has an 8-ball (eight for his jersey number) tattooed inside a U on the other shoulder, said his mother — besides his Canes — is his world.
“Everything I do, I do for her,” he said, eyeing her image. “When she’s not around and I can’t talk to her as much as I want, I look over my shoulder and she’s always there.”
Johnson’s mom, who lives in Miramar, is now remarried to Miami Beach police detective Duane Mitchell.
Duke’s father, Randy Johnson Sr., died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2008 when Duke was 14. Observant Hurricanes fans will notice he recently added a “JR” to the back of his jersey.
“His real name is Randy Michael Thaddeus Johnson Jr.” his mother said.
Johnson was nicknamed Duke after his mother’s grandfather, William Howard “Duke” Coleman, who raised Cassandra near Tallahassee on the Georgia border.
Johnson, a Miami Norland High alum who runs a 4.4 second 40-yard dash, was named Mr. Florida Football as the state’s Class 5A Player of the Year in 2011. But his durability in college is still a concern. He was injured at times last season and not always productive against some of UM’s most formidable opponents.
He gained eight pounds of muscle in the offseason to prepare himself for what coaches hope will be about 20 carries a game.
“That guy is gifted,” fellow running back Eduardo Clements said. “Some things we might not see, he sees. Some things he does, we can’t.”
Offensive line coach Art Kehoe, who has coached a bunch of greats along the way to his five UM national titles, mostly loves Johnson’s toughness.
“As nice as he is and as great of a smile that he has and as talented as he is,” Kehoe said, “Duke is way tougher than everybody thinks. Just watch him finish his runs. He puts his hand in your face and he doesn’t run out of bounds.
“Man, I love that guy.”
Johnson, whose Twitter profile “DJ (G.U.M.P.)” stands for “Great Under Major Pressure,” said he feels no stress knowing defenses are keying on him, and UM fans are expecting greatness.
“It doesn’t change things at all,” he said. “I just play the same game of football I’ve been playing my whole life and let the outcome be the outcome.
“… I’m here to help this team win in any way I can.”