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Matt Johnson, Austin Duke Set To Be Charlotte 49ers' Dynamic Duo In FBS Play

The redshirt-junior to be and the slot receiver have made some magic happen in FCS. Will that carry over as the Niners begin FBS play in the fall?

Kevin Harbin

They probably couldn't be more different on the surface: a 6'3", 230-pound kid from out in the country and a 5'9", 160-pounder from the city. One was the starting quarterback at a school with an enrollment of 800; the other starred at wideout for a school nearly three times as large.

Know this, though: Matt Johnson and Austin Duke have clicked on the football field. Big time.

Their bond goes back to February 1, 2012, as two of the members of the first class of players to sign NLIs to play football for the Charlotte 49ers. Through practice sessions, scrimmages and life off the field, that bond grew.

Which takes us to August 31, 2013, the first-ever game in UNC Charlotte football history. Duke only caught one pass--for one yard--which didn't quite foreshadow what was to come. Turns out, he'd catch 61 more passes for 726 more yards in 2013. Fast forward to 2014: he parlayed that into 79 catches, 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns, including a 98-yarder against James Madison.

Johnson's a clean-cut kid that, on any given day, will tweet out Scripture and spiritual quotes. While he usually lets his play on the field do the talking (1,941 yards and 13 touchdowns passing and 63 carries for 383 yards on the ground in 2014 before being injured), when he does talk, he speaks with the poise and confidence of someone who had been there already. It's easy to see, without even setting foot in the locker room, that guys respect him.

The thing about Johnson and Duke that we don't know is how they'll adjust to the faster pace of FBS football. Defenses will be faster, players will be stronger, and that time in the pocket that Johnson might have had in his first two years under center may be a few seconds shorter. But it's not hard to believe that after they have time to get used to how things happen at college football's highest level, they'll gain confidence and might start to put those numbers up that they did in FCS. And in a season where many of Conference USA's dynamic quarterback/receiver combos from last year won't be out there, a new one may be about to emerge.