Sony Michel knows what it means to be a running back wearing number 34 for the Miami Dolphins.
Growing up in South Florida, one day becoming a five-star recruit at American Heritage High School, it was Ricky Williams who posted the two highest single-season rush totals in franchise history. Dolphins in 2002 (franchise record 1,853 yards) and 2003 (1,372).
“Everyone knows that’s a big number,” Michel said in his first interview with the hometown squad after Tuesday’s organized team activity session. “Ricky Williams ran the ball hard here and did a lot of numbers. I can’t rock him just to rock him. I have to come here and work a little.
Michel, 27, who signed with the Dolphins last week, was just 7 years old when Williams established the Dolphins franchise. He said he never had memories of Williams at that young age, but he had some from running backs from Miami in the years after to Ronnie Brown and Reggie Bush on his wall as he got older. Williams, who infamously retired for the first time before the 2004 season, then returned to team up with Brown in the Dolphins’ backfield, most memorable in the 2008 season highlighted by the start of the Wildcat offense and Miami’s last AFC East Division title.
Michel became a standout NFL tailback after a high school career that saw him burst onto the local scene as an eighth grader before his time in Georgia.
“It was a process for me,” Michel said when asked the last time he carried the ball for a South Florida team until now. “It was the stage of going to college, and when I was going to college, it became the idea or a potential idea of playing for the Dolphins.
“It was a dream, an aspiration. I didn’t know how true it would become, but we’re here and I’m excited. Words can’t really describe it.
Now, Michel will be part of a crowded backfield as one of four starting-capable tailbacks for an NFL team. Miami signed fellow running backs Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert in March. The Dolphins also retained Myles Gaskin, who has started 17 games over the past two seasons.
“A lot of good runners,” said Michel. “My thing is if you want to be a good runner, you have to compete with great runners. It’s one of the reasons I came here.
New Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel is used to having several backs who can produce from his experience leading the San Francisco 49ers’ vaunted running game in the years before he became offensive coordinator there. -low in 2021.
“Competition for the Miami Dolphins is only good,” McDaniel said. “You have the opportunity to add a player of his caliber, of his pedigree, a multiple Super Bowl winner, we jumped at the chance.”
What stands out about Michel over others is that he can be the physical ball carrier between tackles at 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds. Mostert (5-10, 205) is widely praised for his blistering speed, while Edmonds (5-9, 210) is a dynamic fullback who also excels at catching the ball out of the backfield. Gaskin is listed at 194 pounds.
Michel’s trip out of college saw him first drafted as a 2018 first-round pick by the New England Patriots. There he enjoyed immediate success, winning the Super Bowl as a rookie and rushing for 336 yards and six touchdowns in the Patriots’ three playoff wins. Early this season, Michel hit his first 100-yard rushing effort in a Week 4 win over the Dolphins, who went 3-0.
Traded to the Los Angeles Rams before last season, he ended up winning a second Super Bowl.
“Just keep your head down and work,” he said of what he can bring to the Dolphins from his championship experience. “I think that’s all I know. I think that’s all I’m going to keep doing and earning the trust of my teammates.
It suits Michel to return to South Florida with a championship frame of mind. As a senior at American Heritage in 2013, he led the school to its first state football championship. Heritage has won four more since, including three with former Dolphins cornerback and current defensive assistant Patrick Surtain as the school’s head coach. Surtain was in his first year as a school assistant when Michel was in his senior year.