CORAL GABLES, Fla. – This time last year, Miami running back Duke Johnson was starting to feel a whole lot of football wear-and-tear type of pain. Eventually, it got to the point where it not only hampered his play, but even kept him from walking around normally.
These days, nothing hurts.
That might be a great sign for No. 15 Miami, with the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule now looming just a little more than a week away.
Johnson and the Hurricanes (3-0) hit the road for the first time this season on Saturday, visiting South Florida (0-3). And Johnson figures to be well-rested — since the end of the Florida game, now almost three weeks ago, Miami's top offensive weapon will have gotten all of nine touches. He can't recall the last time he felt so fresh at this point of a season, high school or college.
"It's huge," Miami coach Al Golden said. "It's such a big factor in terms of keeping our guys fresh. We only have five guys who are averaging over 45 plays a game right now and that's huge. So that's money in the bank, now. We've got to use it now. We've got to work hard and get stronger, not atrophy, not lose weight, do all the little things right."
Johnson was the first one in the Miami training room the day after the Hurricanes grinded out a win over Florida, saying everything was sore. The Hurricanes didn't play the following week, and then Johnson was barely needed in the win over Savannah State, a 77-7 runaway, record-setting win for Miami.
He put on eight more pounds of muscle over the offseason in anticipation of a bigger workload. So far, the Hurricanes haven't had to tax him much — but his results haven't dipped, either. Johnson has a touchdown in all three of Miami's games this year, extending his streak to seven straight going back to 2012.
"Knowing that around this time last year, I think it was my ankle that was the problem," Johnson said. "I could barely walk, I could barely practice without it bothering me. I'm not battling any injuries right now. I'm 100 percent healthy."
To say that, even three games into season, is rare, Johnson said.
"It's not typical," Johnson said. "But coach Golden is taking care of us, making sure we're ready to go."
Johnson ran the opening kickoff back 95 yards against Savannah State, carried the ball eight more times for 59 yards after that, then got the rest of the night off. He had 20 total touches against Florida Atlantic and 26 against Florida, and had no qualms about getting only nine against the overmatched Tigers.
"The way coach takes care of us is something that makes him different from a lot of coaches," Johnson said. "Most coaches probably would have left us in a little bit longer and had a chance of us getting hurt. He pulled the strings early, got us out, got us rested."
What Johnson didn't get after leaving the Savannah State game was the rest of the night off. Golden, he said, put him to work.
"Coach Golden was real strict about us coaching the other guys behind us to get in there, make plays and finish," Johnson said. "It was good to see."