University of Miami

Duck Commander Independence Bowl could be last Miami Hurricanes game for Duke Johnson

Will he stay or will he go? Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson said he will announce Sunday whether he will enter the 2015 NFL Draft.
Will he stay or will he go? Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson said he will announce Sunday whether he will enter the 2015 NFL Draft. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The time has come for Randy “Duke” Johnson to play his final college football game and head to the NFL — or not.

The Hurricanes’ most prolific running back in history said this week that he already has decided whether he will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.

But he’s not telling.

Johnson will first play South Carolina in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl on Saturday. Then, as he previously said, he’ll announce his decision Sunday at what he hopes will be a UM news conference.

The decision, he said, “is between me and my mom.’’

The only shocker now would be if Johnson decides to stay at Miami. He has already said he has nothing left to prove on the field. Few, if any, expect him to return.

“Mom’’ is Cassandra Mitchell, whose 45th birthday is Sunday, which is why Johnson is announcing his intentions that day.

“I just told him, ‘Don’t base your decision on thinking, Oh, my mama is tired,’” Mitchell, who works in court services for Miami-Dade Corrections, told the Miami Herald last week. “Hell, I’ve been tired for the last 15 years.”

Hurricanes fans can be assured that Johnson will not hold back Saturday. A loss would give UM (6-6, 3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) its first losing season since 2007.

The Gamecocks, of the Southeastern Conference, are also 6-6 and 3-5.

Johnson broke his ankle against Florida State on Nov.2, 2013, and sat out the final five games of that year.

“I kind of broke my ankle last year,” Johnson said Tuesday, when asked if he will play as hard in this game, knowing he might need to preserve his body for the draft. “I’m not really concerned about getting hurt anymore.

“If I get hurt, I get hurt. That’s part of the game. That’s the way I play. I broke my ankle — not really much more.”

Johnson shattered Ottis Anderson’s career rushing record, set from 1975-78, and now has 3,387 yards in less than three seasons.

He also is the UM career record-holder for all-purpose yards with 5,351.

With 1,520 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns this season, Johnson would need 234 on Saturday to break Willis McGahee’s single-season record of 1,753 in 2002.

The Gamecocks statistically have one of the worst rushing defenses in the nation, ranked 107th in allowing 214.4 rushing yards per game.

Mitchell will be at the bowl game with family and friends. Like most mothers, she’s always worried that her son will get injured. But she insisted he will go as hard as he can.

“He just has one level and that’s full,” Mitchell said. “I’m excited and nervous, but that’s not unusual. I want him to win a bowl game — it’s his first. I want them to at least be 7-6 instead of 6-7. I want him to have a good game.

“Every game I worry about him getting hurt. But I watch because I’m still fascinated by his moves.”

UM coach Al Golden said this week that Johnson is “as good a story as there is in college football this year, looking at where he was a year ago. I don’t think any of us that night [Nov.2, 2013] understood what the severity of the injury would be. It was quite severe.

“He fought through a lot of adversity and was determined to come back and have a great year. He’s done that for us and, obviously, we’ve got to make sure we call the right plays Saturday, get him in the right situations and get him the ball enough.”

Johnson’s teammates will be appreciative of his legacy should he leave.

“He’s a legend here already,” quarterback Brad Kaaya said. “He’s already crushed all the records. We’d definitely be missing a key part of the offense, but at the same time he spread a lot of knowledge [to] the young guys.”

Freshman Joe Yearby, mentored all season by Johnson, gained 489 yards with a touchdown on 80 carries. He says he’s “ready’’ to take over if needed.

“Duke showed me everything he learned his last few years here, so I think I’ll be mentally and physically prepared,” Yearby said.

What did Johnson teach him, in addition to technique?

“Be humble, be patient, don’t rush,” Yearby said. “Just take your time with everything you do.”

If he does turn pro, Johnson said he’ll be back to finish his UM studies.

“Of course,” he said last week.

He will likely be a high-round projection by the NFL Advisory Board, which this year will project only if a player could go in the first two rounds, as opposed to a range of rounds in the past. Johnson said he won’t be upset if he’s not projected in the top rounds.

“I wouldn’t be disappointed at all,” he said. “I don’t really expect people to have high expectations for me. If I do come out, my work ethic, the way I played, will show it all.”

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