Saturday will mark the final time several University of Miami seniors run through the smoke at Sun Life Stadium. But one extraordinary junior might be making his last home appearance as well.
Running back Duke Johnson, just 34 yards shy of breaking Miami’s all-time career rushing record of 3,331 yards, said Monday that he has proven all he can on the field as a Hurricane — and coach Al Golden agreed.
“Yeah, I don’t think there’s much more I need to prove on the field, if anything,” said Johnson, who noted he will likely use the time between Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh (5-6, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) and the bowl game to make his decision about whether to enter the NFL Draft.
“I’m not saying there’s no room to get better — there’s always room to get better in many aspects of the game. But as far as, I guess, stats and things of that sort, there’s not much more I need to prove.”
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His degree, Johnson said, is “the deal breaker.”
He said it would take another semester or semester-and-a-half to earn his degree in sports administration.
“Is it worth leaving without it at the end of the day?” he said. “And if I do leave without it, what’s the plan of coming back to get it? How are we going to work that out?
“So, the degree is the main thing we’re working on.”
Family, notably his mother, Cassandra Mitchell, is what will matter most to Johnson in his pending decision. He estimated that the decision will be weighted 60 percent on what his mother believes is the right choice.
“We haven’t really had time to talk about it during the season because I’m in workouts and training,” Johnson said.
There’s “no doubt,” Johnson added, that he will return to finish his coursework if he should turn pro.
When told what Johnson had said and asked whether he believes Johnson has shown the NFL he’s ready, Golden immediately said, “Oh, yeah.”
“There’s no question,” Golden said. “He’s had a terrific year — unselfish, pass protection, catching the ball out of the backfield. If not for coming back off the injury, kick returner as well. You guys saw him two years ago do that. He’s got a lot of tools.
“He’s chasing the all-time deal. That’s a who’s who, now. And the fact that he’s done it in two-and-a-half years [because of a broken ankle last season], and his first year he was unable to go to the ACC Championship Game and the bowl game. … He’s done it in a very short period of time.”
Johnson ranks seventh nationally in rushing yards (1,431) and in yards per game (130.1). He is sixth in yards per carry (7.1).
Johnson’s 1,431 yards rank second all-time for a single season behind Willis McGahee’s 1,753 in 2002, and he already owns the all-purpose career record with 5,238 yards. He has 13 career 100-yard games, one shy of the school record held by Clinton Portis and Edgerrin James.
Ottis Anderson, now 57, set the UM career rushing record from 1975-78.
What would it mean to Johnson to surpass Anderson?
“I guess it’ll mean a lot just being around the greats,” he said. “Not really accomplishing as much as they have, not really doing as much as they did in certain games and certain situations, but just being a part of that list means a lot to me and my family.”
Despite all the star-studded statistics and Miami greats Johnson has eclipsed, he said the career accomplishment that means the most to him was winning a share of the ACC Coastal title in 2012.
The Hurricanes (6-5, 3-4), currently out of the ACC title picture, would have advanced to the ACC Championship Game in 2012 by virtue of a tiebreaker. But UM forfeited that opportunity, along with a bowl game, as part of self-imposed penalties related to its former NCAA investigation.
Johnson was asked what he considered his most significant individual accomplishment.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” he said. “I’ve just been playing. Just having fun.”