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Miami Hurricanes intent on season to remember

By Susan Miller Degnan
Miami Herald
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/31/20/46/lVZ8Z.Em.138.jpeg|221
    Mike Ehrmann - GETTY
    Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson had 920 yards rushing in eight games last season before breaking his right ankle Nov. 2 at Florida State.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/31/20/46/VF3h2.Em.138.jpeg|462
    Brian Blanco - GETTY
    Running back Duke Johnson has rushed for 1,867 yards in his first two seasons with the Miami Hurricanes.

GREENSBORO Someone asked Miami Hurricanes tailback Duke Johnson recently if he’s the biggest star in Miami with LeBron James having departed.

“No, I think D-Wade still has that title,” he shot back, referring to longtime Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade.

Second biggest?

“Second, possibly,” Johnson mused. “Yeah, I could be second, but it’s still Wade Country.”

For nearly an hour behind a small rectangular table at the ACC Football Media Days, Johnson and middle linebacker Denzel Perryman turned their corner of the Grandover Resort into Canes Country.

Perryman would say something, such as how he bowled a 200 with the other ACC player representatives, and Johnson – a few inches away – would snap his head toward the linebacker and give him a fierce stare.

“A 200 minus 100,” Perryman said meekly after Johnson admonished him about the bowling score.

They were silly. They were serious. And they were both in agreement that the Hurricanes, 9-4 in 2013 but picked to win the Coastal Division ahead of last year’s champion Duke, are intent on making this season one to remember.

Nonetheless, no one was bold enough to predict an ACC title this season, which begins Sept. 1 at Louisville – against the team that demolished the Canes 36-9 in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

“We’re going to go pretty far this year,” said the 5-foot-11, 242-pound Perryman, who returned to UM for his senior season after amassing 108 tackles last season. “We’re looking to be a top-10 defense. This year everybody is on the same page. Everybody knows the playbook in and out.”

Johnson, a junior who rushed for 947 yards his freshman year and 920 yards in eight games last season before breaking his right ankle on Nov. 2 at Florida State, said he’s fit, fast and eager to start in the opener.

“We have the potential to be great, but what I’m hoping for is to finally win the Coastal and I hope we can win the ACC championship.”

With formerly projected starting quarterback Ryan Williams recuperating from a torn ACL, does Johnson have any idea who will start under center?

“Nope,” he said. “Nobody knows.”

Johnson said graduate quarterback transfer Jake Heaps “reads coverages the best” and has impeccable timing. “He’s in rhythm with every throw.

“He just has to learn the playbook.”

Johnson said redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Olsen “is a lot better than he showed” in the spring game, and that newcomer Brad Kaaya “has a lot of potential” and is “more accurate” than fellow freshman Malik Rosier. “(Kaaya) is not going to force anything. He doesn’t act like a freshman, the way he carries himself, the way he’s in a huddle.”

Johnson, 5-9 and 205 pounds, said he was recently timed in the 40-yard dash three times in a two-day span, with his fastest result being 4.33 seconds, his next fastest 4.4 flat and his slowest 4.44.

“I barely feel it,” he said of his ankle.

He’s ready. So are the Canes. For Louisville and everyone else.

“Nobody likes to be embarrassed,” Perryman said of the bowl game. “Just to start with them … is going to be great. It’s a rematch.

“I’m 0-1 against those guys. I ain’t going 0-2.”

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