University of Miami

UM running back Duke Johnson debating whether to turn pro after this season

Duke Johnson is eighth nationally with 1,343 yards rushing this season and is averaging 7.26 yards per carry.
Duke Johnson is eighth nationally with 1,343 yards rushing this season and is averaging 7.26 yards per carry. Miami Herald Staff

After his spectacular 249-yard rushing performance at Virginia Tech on Thursday night in front of a national TV audience, Miami running back Duke Johnson finally got his 1,000-yard season.

With 2,903 career rushing yards, Johnson needs 58 more to surpass Edgerrin James as the No.2 all-time UM rusher.

He already is UM’s career leader in all-purpose yards.

Now, the question is this: Will Johnson leave Miami for the NFL after this season?

Johnson doesn’t know yet, nor does his mother, Cassandra Mitchell, on whom he will lean heavily for guidance.

He previously said his goal was to get his degree this year as a junior, so as to make the decision easier when the season ended.

But Monday, Johnson, an Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Week, noted after practice that he likely won’t be able to earn his degree in sports administration until after the fall semester of 2015.

“I probably have another semester after this [academic year],” he said.

How does that affect his decision as far as leaving early?

“Cassandra. It’s all on Cassandra,” he said of his mother. “That’s a decision we have to make — majority her. I always have some say in my decision. But for the most part it’s her, because she wants to see me get my degree, and she wants to see me be successful after football.”

When contacted Monday by phone, Mitchell told the Miami Herald that she was also conflicted.

Knowing her son might not graduate until next year, how does that affect her decision process?

“Wow. I thought he was, like, right at the door,” she said. “I’ve been talking to Duke about staying because I saw the Duke game when he tweaked his ankle a little bit. So, besides getting his degree, I’m like, OK, maybe he gives it another year. That ankle would heal completely, and I think he’ll be a little more confident.

“I think sometimes he babies it and favors it. Then I think sometimes it’s mental with him. When he thinks about it, then he might start limping a little bit. I’ll be like, ‘Why are you limping? Is it hurting?’

“‘No,’” he’ll say. … I think it’s a mind thing with him sometimes.”

Johnson ranks eighth nationally in yards per carry (7.45), rushing yards (1,036) and all-purpose yards (1,157.5).

He’s 10th in rushing yards per game, averaging 129.5.

Ahead of him nationally in rushing yards are Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah (1,249), a senior; Marshall’s Devon Johnson (1,203), a junior; Indiana’s Tevin Coleman (1,192), a junior; Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (1,168), a junior; Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin (1,148), a freshman; Minnesota’s David Cobb (1,131), a senior; and Pittsburgh’s James Conner (1,079), a sophomore.

On Thursday, Johnson twisted the right ankle he broke last season, but he said it was fine Monday. He, along with freshman tailback Joe Yearby (hamstring), are healed and ready to go for the Canes (5-3, 2-2 ACC) in the 12:30 p.m. homecoming game against North Carolina (4-4, 2-2) on Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.

“No problems with it,” Johnson said.

His mom said the injury issue will be factored in their decision.

“While I want him to heal,” she said, “you never know if he’ll get hurt again. I don’t know. It was good seeing him out there really tearing it up. That’s something I haven’t been able to see this year. Thursday he enjoyed playing football and it showed … We don’t know what the rest of the season may hold.”

Mitchell then weighed the injury concern against the degree issue, saying she knows once her son gets into the NFL, the demands on his time will be even greater.

“It was hard for him [at UM],” she said. “He wanted to be an engineer, but because of their workload, he had to major in something else. I can only imagine at the next level, how much time would you really have?

“The degree isn’t something I want him to keep putting off. I tell him it’s ultimately his decision. I’m going to tell him what I feel, but right now I’m mixed.

“I think another year would give him more confidence and put him where he really wants to be at, and then he’d have his degree and everything would be right there. It sounds too good to be true, right?”

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