Hurricanes running back joins elite class

Duke Johnson surpassed the 2,000-yard rushing mark in his career at Miami. 
NCAA Football: Florida A&M at Miami

Miami Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson (8) during the second half against the Florida A&M Rattlers at Sun Life Stadium. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

(C+P) — Duke Johnson joined an impressive list of running backs on Saturday in his “homecoming” game at Sun Life Stadium.

Playing there for the first time since last October after a broken ankle at Florida State ended his season, the junior rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries while leading Miami to a 41-7 victory over Florida A&M.

But it was one carry in particular and fittingly his best of the day, a 55-yard dash in the second quarter, that placed Johnson in the school record books alongside Hurricanes legends Ottis Anderson, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, among others.

That run pushed Johnson past the 2,000-yard mark in his career and made him just the ninth player in school history to accomplish the feat.

“Just being compared to a lot of great running backs that came through here is heartfelt and I think it is a great accomplishment,” Johnson said.

With 10 games still left on the regular season schedule, Johnson now takes aim at Anderson’s all-time record of 3,331 yards.

Miami Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson (8) runs against Florida A&M Rattlers defense during the first half at Sun Life Stadium. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)
Miami Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson (8) runs against Florida A&M Rattlers defense during the first half at Sun Life Stadium. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

And it doesn’t end there. Johnson also ranks fifth all-time in all-purpose yards with 3,645. That’s just 749 total yards shy of Miami’s all-time record-holder Santana Moss (4,395 set from 1997-2000).

So how does Johnson compare to the list of great Hurricanes running backs that went on to stellar NFL careers? One person, perhaps above all others, would know. Don Soldinger, an assistant coach at Miami from 1984-88 and running backs coach from 1995-2005, developed five of the nine players that reached the coveted 2,000-yard mark.

“He reminds me a little of Portis,” Soldinger said of the newest member to that club. “I’ve watched them (over the years) and (Johnson) is the first guy I’ve seen that compares (to that group).”

Soldinger, who was part of two National Championships and last year inducted into the Miami Sports Hall of Fame, said he believes that Johnson can follow in the footsteps of the elite backs to come through “Running Back U.”

“This guy can do it all,” he said. “He’s in the same mold. He has that extra burst to get by people.”

However, one concern still remains. While Johnson continues to pile up the yardage and climb the ladder of career leaders, the 5-9, 206-pounder is also taking a pounding doing it.

“He can do it, he’s a tough guy,” Soldinger said. “But it’s a lot easier with two guys.”

Most running backs with any longevity in the NFL will tell you that getting to that level with something left in the tank is a key.

Perhaps freshman Joseph Yearby can be the guy who takes some of the pressure, and the hits, away from Johnson.

Not a big back either at just 5-9 and 192 pounds, Yearby rushed 14 times for 95 yards on Saturday. Those are stats that Johnson may or may not appreciate during his time at Miami, but down the road could play a factor in a potential NFL career.

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