When you thumb through the University of Miami’s innumerable individual milestones and accomplishments, many would be surprised to learn that the school’s record for all-time leading rushing yards does not belong to former greats like Ottis Anderson, Edgerrin James, Frank Gore, Willis McGahee or Clinton Portis.
That distinction actually belongs to Randy “Duke” Johnson, who is projected to be a second-round pick in this week’s NFL draft. What makes his school record even more noteworthy is that Johnson accomplished the feat in only three years. When you factor in that he broke his ankle against Florida State during his sophomore year and missed six games, his 3,519 rushing yards as a Hurricane take on even more significance.
This past season, while some began to doubt his durability after the previous year’s ankle injury, Duke proved those skeptics wrong by running for 1,652 years, averaging nearly seven yards per carry with a long of 90 yards, scoring 13 touchdowns and catching 38 passes for an additional 412 yards.
Duke has been described by one scout as the best outside zone runner in the 2015 draft class. His consistent production at Miami, where he never averaged less than six yards per carry, and versatility in the passing and return games are factors that have many pro personnel executives excited about his future potential.
Over the last few years, he’s been one of the most exciting running backs in all of college football. This season, Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon garnered most of the national headlines, but Duke’s explosive quickness, elusiveness in small spaces, ability to seamless shift gears in the open field while running through arm tackles lead many to believe that he could be an instant contributor for a franchise during his rookie season.
Duke Johnson is a product of the Miami’s notorious Liberty City neighborhood and in a Shadow League exclusive video feature, we went back there to capture the essence of his support network and the crucible that helped shape who he is as a football player and a young man.
“Everybody don’t have that ‘IT’”, Luther Campbell aka Uncle Luke told us while standing on the sacred grass grounds of the Liberty City Optimus youth football program. “He’s got that ‘IT’ factor!”
“Down here in Miami, football is life,” said former Hurricane and four-time Pro Bowl and All-Pro NFL running back Edgerrin James. “When you’re in school or in the pros, you always hear about certain kids. And I’ve always heard about Duke. Down here in the city of Miami, you can get trapped easily. And he’s been able to display, no matter where he’s been or what he’s done, that he’s been able to keep a level head. That’s a compliment to his parents, his upbringing and to himself.”
“Growing up as a kid, I always believed that I’d be in the NFL,” Johnson told us. “I believe that belief is the reason why I’m here now.”