GREENSBORO, N.C. — Miami — or "The U", as it is more popularly known — is still not back. Junior running back Duke Johnson wants to make that clear.
"I don’t see why we can say we’re back. We don’t have a reason to say that," Johnson said. "We’ve been in the ACC for 10 years and we haven’t been to the ACC Championship once. We haven’t won the Coastal Division. So there’s no explanation to say we’re back."
Just because the Hurricanes aren’t back yet doesn’t mean that Johnson isn’t.
After breaking his ankle against Florida State, it took him four months before he could run and cut on the foot without feeling it. Once he did it for the first time, he said, he was back.
"I’m all the way back," Johnson said.
And that’s bad news for the rest of the ACC.
In a league that returns a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Johnson still has a chance to emerge as the best offensive player in the league.
He might have been the best offensive player in the league last year already, even including Winston, but that injury shortened his season nearly in half. He averaged 6.3 yards a carry and 19.3 yards per catch last year in eight games.
He didn’t get to play a complete game, it felt like, through the first half of the season when he was on the field, though. He had to leave the North Carolina game with a concussion, though he said he watched it in the locker room afterwards and doesn’t believe he actually had a concussion. Those types of injuries and tweaks here and there led to him missing time — that means he still feels like he has a lot to show.
He also knows that whoever the quarterback is — it will likely be a backup as Ryan Williams is recovering from an ACL tear — he’ll have to carry the team at times.
And he’s more than ready to do that.
"I don’t believe I have to carry the offense thorough the whole season. A game here, a game there, the offense will depend on me and I’ll be ready for that. But not the whole season," Johnson said.
Johnson said he doesn’t have expectations for himself, though. Or his team, for that matter. He understands that anything can happen.
Winning the Coastal — which is certainly more than possible for Miami this year — wouldn’t even mean that Miami is back, Johnson said. But it would be, as he called it, a "step".
"We’ve got to get back that first step, that Coastal. We were Coastal Champs [in 2012, but Miami was ineligible for the ACC title game due to NCAA violations], that doesn’t count as a step. You’ve got to win it outright. Then that would be a step," Johnson said.