Geez, can they talk. Not just talk, but launch salvo after salvo of verbal cluster bombs that nearly knock the notebook out of your hands. Ask center Brett Romberg about his decision to leave home in Windsor, Ontario, for Miami, and you get an HBO comedy special about having to choose between snow up to your chin strap or rubbing oil on the tanned yams of some bikini-clad UM coed. Sherko Haji-Rasouli, the Hurricanes' left guard, is the same way. Nod in his general direction, and you get 318 pounds of Adam Sandler. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma will chat you up until your tape recorder begs for a double-A transplant. Defensive tackle Matt Walters should travel with his own stenographer. Even Ken Dorsey and Willis McGahee, the QB-RB Heisman tandem, could exhaust pretty boy Carson Daly in a Q&A-thon.
"That's my buddy," says McGahee. "But he's not much of a talker."
Turns out the school that put the yap in Warren Sapp and produced such world-class woofers as Micheal Barrow, Clinton Portis, Ed Reed, Joaquin Gonzalez and Michael Irvin also has room for the strong, silent type. Not that anyone realized it until last January. "I never paid much attention to him," says Romberg. "I never noticed him until, well, actually the Rose Bowl."
The Rose Bowl. Nebraska's Blackshirts still have toaster burns from watching the 6'3", 227-pound Johnson run by them like they had John Deeres strapped to their cleats. Johnson caught seven Dorsey passes for 199 yards and 2 TDs. By the time it was finished, Miami had a national championship, and Johnson and Dorsey had co-MVP awards.
That was it for flying under the radar. Johnson, who redshirted as a freshman in 1999, considered ditching Miami for the NFL. McGahee asked him to stay another year. "You can't leave me," he told him.
So Johnson stayed, worked his tail off in spring practice, and won a Big East sprint title. Then he spent the rest of the off-season serving a suspension for allegedly cheating on a test and plagiarizing a term paper. He was banned from the UM football facilities until August, but returned to lead the Hurricanes in receptions and receiving yards. And you should see him on Miami's kickoff-coverage team. "Dre almost put some people in the hospital," says Walters.
And still, it would take a court order from Judge Judy to get anything close to Romberg-quality material out of him. For someone who loves watching the brash Terrell Owens of the San Francisco 49ers, Johnson chooses his words as carefully as he runs his favorite pass pattern, the classic post. He has no need for a Sharpie, as evidenced by his clueless moment after the recent Fiesta Bowl-clinching win against Virginia Tech.
Reporter: "You know you finished the season with more than 1,000 yards, right?"
Maybe this is why Johnson is a team favorite. This, and the fact that on a team of can-you-believe-he-did-that players, he is considered an athletic mutant. "A genetic freak," Romberg says. "If I were a DB, I don't know what I'd do if I saw him coming toward me. I'd definitely turtle. He's like an X-Man, or something."
"He's not human," says Haji-Rasouli.
But Romberg and Haji-Rasouli -- and anyone else who can't see past Johnson's TV guns and 4.35 40 -- have it wrong. Johnson is mortal, all right. You should have seen him after the win against VaTech. He ran a down-and-out to his 2-year-old godson, Cyril Jones Jr., scooped the little guy up in his right arm and gave him a postgame tour of the Orange Bowl field.
Cyril Sr., Johnson's best friend, would have done it himself, except that he was shot to death last December.
And this past August, Johnson's own father was found dead from gunshot wounds. Of course, Johnson hadn't seen his old man since third grade, so it wasn't like he shed any tears when he heard the news. "To tell you the truth, no," he says. "It was just like I didn't even know him."
His family is his mom, Karen, who still looks as if she could run the 400, which is what she did before she had Andre after her sophomore year at Tennessee State. There's Johnson's younger brother, Willie Pope, a senior WR at Norland High School. And Andre Melton, his uncle and namesake, is another constant.
This article appears in the January 6 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
Fiesta Bowl: Point of Attack
Can Ohio State stop Miami? ...
Need a stop on D or a big ...
A closer look at Andre ...
ESPN.com's Fiesta Bowl page
Break out the chips and salsa
Who's on the cover today?
SportsCenter with staples
Subscribe to ESPN The Magazine for just ...