Running back Duke Johnson hauled in a pass Thursday on the final day of University of Miami spring practice and sprinted up field as if the future of the Hurricanes depended on his every step.
“It felt great being out there with my team again,” said Johnson, who broke his right ankle Nov. 2 at Florida State and was finally integrated into practice on a limited basis Tuesday and Thursday. “But as much as it’s been a good thing for me it’s been a good thing for them just seeing me out there.”
No wonder. Johnson, going into his junior season, played in eight games last season at tailback and kick returner, rushing for 920 yards and six touchdowns and averaging 174.1 all-purpose yards before the injury.
With projected starting quarterback Ryan Williams out with a torn ACL and redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen elevated to first team, Johnson will be needed more than ever. He said Thursday that he feels “great” and is ahead of schedule, though he will not participate in the spring game Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.
“I’m back running,” he said. “It couldn’t feel any better right now. I’ll just take these next couple of months to get in tip-top shape and make sure I heal 100 percent and am ready for the season. There’s nothing difficult right now because my ankle wasn’t a cutting injury. I didn’t hurt my ankle cutting — somebody fell on it and it just happened to break.
“Cutting is not something I’m worried about, running full steam ahead is not something I’m worried about or neither is stopping on a dime. I’m just out here to play football.”
Johnson, who said he played at about 195 pounds last season, is up to 207 and much more muscular. He said his new frame will help him “resist injuries, take more of a pounding and be able to finish games late.”
“When you get an injury like I did you just learn to love the game even more,” he said. “You just learn to appreciate the days you’re out here, the long days you get tired and you say you want to go and wish you had a break. You really don’t. This is where you’d rather be.”
He said he has taken fellow injured tailback Joe Yearby, a true freshman also being carefully integrated without contact, under his tutelage.
“Joe is a quick learner,” Johnson said. “Joe is a guy that wants to get better, because he knows when the season gets here his number will be called whether he’s ready for it or not. It’s my job to make sure he’s ready for it.”
The Canes will be given a sneak preview of their new Nike uniforms Friday, with the uniforms being publicly unveiled at the spring game. When asked individually to describe their dream uniforms, Johnson, cornerback Tracy Howard and receiver Stacy Coley each said “all black.’’
Johnson: “All black with white numbers and orange-and-green trim. Black looks good.”
Howard: “That’s my favorite color. All black and the numbers would be green with some orange trimming, with black cleats and orange shoestrings.”
Coley: “All black is scary.”
“I’m getting back to what I used to do,’’ he said. “I go across the middle with no problem.”Trayone Gray