As the player who lines up next to Duke Johnson during kickoff returns and occasionally gets to block for him downfield, University of Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett has enjoyed arguably the best perspective when it comes to watching the freshman work his magic in the open field.
And even still, Dorsett said he hasn’t quite figured out how the former Miami Norland High star finds so many openings and evades tacklers with such ease.
“Obviously he’s got that running back mentality — that one-hole-and-hit-it mentality,” Dorsett said of Johnson, who is tied for the national lead with 10 all-purpose plays of 50 or more yards this season.
“Sometimes you watch him on film and he’ll make a cut while looking forward and somebody will just fly across his face and miss the tackle. And I don’t know how he saw that person sometimes. He just has great instincts. He’s a special talent.”
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The kind of talent UM (6-5) is pushing for All-American status (the honorees will be announced next month). The Hurricanes haven’t had an All-American since offensive lineman Eric Winston, safety Brandon Meriweather and cornerback Kelly Jennings were selected in 2005.
RECORDS WITHIN REACH
Johnson, who ranks second nationally in kick-return average (34.91 yards) and 11th in all-purpose yardage average (162.09), could go a long way toward earning it with a stellar performance Saturday at Duke.
With 781 yards rushing this season, Johnson needs just 59 against the Blue Devils (6-5) to surpass Clinton Portis for the UM freshman rushing record. And if he posts 316 all-purpose yards Saturday (he had 368 against Virginia), Johnson (1,793 yards) also would surpass Willis McGahee for the best all-purpose single-season yardage mark in school history. McGahee finished fourth in the Heisman voting when he put up 2,108 yards in 2002.
“We’re going to try to work on that,” coach Al Golden said when told Johnson was close to Portis’ freshman rushing record. “Duke’s going to have something to say about that.”
As for Johnson, he said his main focus Saturday is to get a victory for UM’s seniors, who will not go to a bowl game because of the school’s self-imposed postseason ban for a second consecutive year.
“It would be amazing, just knowing that my name would be in the record books of a school I admired growing up alongside players I admired growing up,” Johnson said. “But I’m not going to think about it. I had a problem trying to do too much instead of letting the game come to me earlier this season. I’m going to let the game come to me and if [those records] fall into it, that would be great. But if not, I’ll be happy with the win.”
LAUDED FOR HUMILITY
Johnson’s teammates, though, say they would love to see him break Portis’ rushing record and earn All-American honors — not just because of what he has done on the field, but off it with his humility.
“The stuff Duke has done, he could easily have a big head — he’s almost a superstar,” said sophomore running back Dallas Crawford, who sits next to Johnson on the team bus each week.
“But he’s the most humble guy I’ve ever met. After the first game at BC [when Johnson scored on two runs of 50-plus yards], he told me his only dream was to put on a Miami Hurricanes uniform and play. He said it was beyond his dreams just to play. That made me and a lot of guys respect him a lot.”
Said senior cornerback Brandon McGee: “He doesn’t brag. He doesn’t boast. He doesn’t feed into the hype or anything like that. He just comes to work every day. If he has a question, he’ll ask. He doesn’t think he knows more than anyone. He interacts with everybody on the team. I think that’s his biggest attribute.”