Someone asked Miami Hurricanes tailback Duke Johnson on Sunday if he were the biggest star in Miami with LeBron James having departed.
“No, I think D-Wade still has that title,’’ he shot back, referring to longtime Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade.
“Second, possibly,” Johnson mused. “Yeah, I could be second, but it’s still Wade County.”
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For nearly an hour behind a small rectangular table at the Atlantic Coast Conference Football Media Days, Johnson and middle linebacker Denzel Perryman turned their corner of the Grandover Resort into Canes County.
Perryman would say something, such as how he bowled a 200 on Saturday with the other ACC player representatives, and Johnson — a few inches away — would snap his head toward the linebacker and give him a fierce stare.
“A 200 minus 100,” Perryman said meekly after Johnson admonished him about the bowling score.
They were silly. They were serious. And they were both in agreement that the Hurricanes, 9-4 in 2013, are intent on making this season one to remember.
Nonetheless, no one was bold enough to predict an Atlantic Coast Conference title this season, which begins Sept. 1 at Louisville — against the team that demolished the Canes 36-9 in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
“We’re going to go pretty far this year,” said the 5-11, 242-pound Perryman, who returned to UM for his senior season after amassing 108 tackles last season. “We’re looking to be a top-10 defense. This year everybody is on the same page. Everybody knows the playbook in and out.”
Johnson, a junior who rushed for 947 yards his freshman year and 920 yards in eight games last season before breaking his right ankle on Nov. 2 at Florida State, said he’s fit, fast and eager to start in the opener.
“We have the potential to be great, but what I’m hoping for is to finally win the Coastal and I hope we can win the ACC championship.”
With formerly projected starting quarterback Ryan Williams recuperating from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, does Johnson have any idea who will start under center?
“Nope,” he said. “Nobody knows.”
Johnson said graduate quarterback transfer Jake Heaps “reads coverages the best” and has impeccable timing. “He’s in rhythm with every throw.
“He just has to learn the playbook.”
Johnson said redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Olsen “is a lot better than he showed’’ in the spring game, and that newcomer Brad Kaaya “has a lot of potential’’ and is “more accurate’’ than fellow freshman Malik Rosier. “[Kaaya] is not going to force anything. He doesn’t act like a freshman, the way he carries himself, the way he’s in a huddle.”
Johnson, 5-9 and 205 pounds, said he was recently timed in the 40-yard dash three times in a two-day span, with his fastest result being 4.33 seconds, his next fastest 4.4 flat and his slowest 4.44.
“I barely feel it,’’ he said of his ankle. “Sometimes I feel pain when I’m doing too much and have a long day — when I do more than one workout, when I go the extra mile after practice. It’s just tightness. Not really sharp pain. You get off it, ice it, heat it and stretch it out.’’
Johnson said he was “disgusted” by the recent arrest of former teammates JaWand Blue and Alexander Figueroa, both linebackers charged with sexual battery July 8 after admitting to Coral Gables police they got a 17-year-old UM student intoxicated and raped her on campus.
“There’s a certain line you don’t cross and there are certain things you don’t do, and when you do, I become the enemy,” he said. “I become the guy that just can’t associate with you. That’s a family that just sent their daughter to college”
Perryman said he wasn’t comfortable talking about the situation, but “you just know right from wrong.”
Obviously some people don’t, he was told.
“That’s on them,” he said.
As for facing Louisville, Perryman had plenty to say.
“Nobody likes to be embarrassed,” Perryman said of the bowl game. “Just to start with them is going to be great. It’s a rematch.
“I’m 0-1 against those guys. I ain’t going 0-2.”