Duke Johnson recognized as ‘most courageous’ football player in ACC

No. 8 Duke Johnson powers past a Gators defender. The Hurricanes defeated the Gators 21-16.  Nick Gangemi // Assistant Photo Editor
No. 8 Duke Johnson powers past a Gators defender. Nick Gangemi // Assistant Photo Editor

Hurricanes junior running back Duke Johnson was named the recipient of the ACC’s 2014 Brian Piccolo Award Thursday.

The Piccolo Award has been given annually since 1970 in memory of Brian Piccolo. The award recognizes the “most courageous” football player in the ACC. In 1965, Piccolo was the ACC Athlete of the Year. He went on to play for the Chicago Bears before his career was cut short when he was diagnosed with cancer. His courageous fight was an inspiration to the football community.

In the spirit of the award, Johnson was recognized for his battle back from injury last season. Johnson suffered a fractured fibula and a dislocated ankle in the fourth quarter against Florida State in the 2013 season. He had surgery two days later to repair his ankle. The injury put an end to his successful sophomore season, where he ran for 920 yards in the eight games he started.

This season, Johnson bounced back with six consecutive games of 100 or more rushing yards during. Johnson ranked among the nation’s top rushing leaders throughout the season. He finished the regular season second in the ACC with 1,520 yards in 12 games. Johnson made Miami’s all-time rushing list.

Johnson is a semifinalist for the Doak Walker and Walter Camp Player of the Year Awards. He was named the ACC Offensive Back of the Week on Oct. 27 when he rushed for a career-high 249 yards on 29 carries and led the Canes to a 30-6 victory over Virginia Tech.

In that game, Johnson became the first Miami running back since Willis McGahee in 2002 to pass 200 yards rushing in a game, and only the fourth player in school history to do so.

“To come back from this type of injury is in and of itself a great accomplishment,” Miami head coach Al Golden said in a release. “To come back bigger, faster, stronger and better is truly remarkable. We could not be more proud of Duke Johnson. The sacrifice and determination he exhibited during his nine-month rehabilitation exemplifies why he is considered one of the game’s elite running backs and truly deserving of this award.”

Johnson is the fourth Hurricane to receive the Piccolo Award. The last Cane to win was defensive end Shayon Green in 2012.

The Piccolo Award will be presented to Johnson at the ACC’s Night of Legends event 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Charlotte Convention Center. The award presentation is part of the festivities of the Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game.