Duke Johnson stays humble amid early Miami success
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) -- At Miami, it seems like one person is playing some pretty good defense against Duke Johnson.
And she wears the same jersey that he does.
Cassandra Mitchell is the mother of the do-everything Miami freshman. She's easily identified at games, given that she wears a jersey with her son's No. 8 and the words "Momma Duke" stitched across the back. Her job right now is simple: As her son gets more and more attention, she's working to keep him more and more grounded.
So far, mother and son are both delivering.
"We'd love to have 105 Momma Dukes," Miami coach Al Golden said. "I mean, that's the truth. She's great. She will not let him get off-course. She's grounded. She's humble. And I think the young man is the same way."
Here's what Mitchell does for the Hurricanes: She tries to urge her son to ignore what's said and written about him, good and bad.
Here's what her son has done for the Hurricanes: He has six of their 11 touchdowns this season, ranks third in all of major-college football when it comes to finding the end zone, and gives Miami (2-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) plenty of hope for its trip on Saturday to Georgia Tech (2-1, 1-1).
Until he was asked about it Tuesday, Johnson was unaware of where he ranks nationally. According to STATS LLC, 833 players have scored a touchdown this season. Of those, only Fresno State's Robbie Rouse and Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas have more TDs -- seven each -- than Johnson.
"That's her whole goal, to not let me know things like that and keep me focused," Johnson said.
He gets recognized on campus and has been stopped on the street a couple of times by fans desperate to pat him on the back for how he's started the season, especially coming off a four-touchdown performance last weekend against Bethune-Cookman. Of Johnson's six touchdowns -- which are more than 10 FBS teams have scored this season -- four have gone for at least 50 yards.
"He's a great player," said Miami defensive back Deon Bush, Johnson's roommate. "He's made a lot of plays for us. He's just a playmaker. He's a special, special player. There's not many players like him in the country. It's great to be on the same side as him."
But he's got to be getting some sort of swelled head, right?
"Oh, definitely not," Bush said. "Not Duke Johnson. He's always the same person."
Bush would know better than most. Johnson is his roommate, so when Bush says that he doesn't sit around and watch for his oft-televised highlights to pop up across his screen, it's believable.
"My whole goal is just to win, help my team win," Johnson said. "I don't really keep up with my stats."
Golden does. Johnson only stands about 5-foot-9, and the Hurricanes have two other running backs in the rotation with Mike James and Eduardo Clements. So for as tempting as it might be to give Johnson a huge number of touches -- he's gotten 44 carries, receptions and kick returns in the season's first three games -- Golden said Miami wants to keep using their stellar freshman in largely the same capacity.
For now, anyway. If he keeps averaging 9.4 yards per carry, 10.6 yards per catch and 33.9 yards per return -- that's an average of 14.6 yards every time he touches the ball -- that might change.
"His approach has had such a positive impact," Golden said. "He's not a guy that misses anything, that misses class or misses study hall or misses workouts. He takes care of his business. He prepares. He works really hard ... and he gets his opportunities because of that."
Notes: Golden said WR Allen Hurns (concussion-like symptoms) and S Vaughn Telemaque (knee) are expected to play against Georgia Tech. LB Denzel Perryman (ankle) has been ruled out for Saturday.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)