Sony Michel knows what it means to be a running back wearing No. 34 for the Miami Dolphins.
As he was growing up in South Florida, developing into what would one day become a five-star high school recruit at American Heritage, it was Ricky Williams posting the two highest single-season rushing totals in Dolphins history in 2002 (franchise-record 1,853 yards) and 2003 (1,372).
“Everybody knows this is a great number,” Michel said in his first interview with his hometown team following Tuesday’s session of organized team activities. “Ricky Williams ran the ball hard here and did a lot of numbers. I can’t be rocking it just to rock it. I’ve got to come out here and put in some work.”
Michel, 27, who signed with the Dolphins last week, was just 7 years old when Williams set the Dolphins’ franchise mark. He said he never had any Williams memorabilia at that young age, but he had some from Miami running backs in the years that followed in Ronnie Brown and Reggie Bush on his wall as he got older. Williams, who infamously retired for the first time ahead of the 2004 season, later returned to team up with Brown in the Dolphins’ backfield, most memorably in the 2008 season highlighted by the onset of the Wildcat offense and Miami’s last AFC East division title.
Michel became a standout NFL tailback after a storied high school career that saw him first burst onto the local scene as an eighth grader before his time at Georgia.
“It was a process for me,” said Michel when asked about the last time he carried the football for a South Florida team to now. “It was the step of going to college, and when I was in the process of college, that 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 tailbacks capable of starting 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 great runners,” Michel said. “My whole thing is, if you want to be a good runner, you’ve got to compete with great runners. That’s one of the reasons I came here.”
New Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel is used to having multiple backs that can produce from his experience spearheading the San Francisco 49ers’ touted run game in the years before he became offensive coordinator there in 2021.
“Competition for the Miami Dolphins is only a good thing,” 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 opportunity.”
What stands out about Michel relative to the others is that he can be the physical, between-the-tackles ball carrier at 5-11, 215 pounds. Mostert (5-10, 205) is largely lauded for his blazing speed, while Edmonds (5-9, 210) is a dynamic back who also excels at catching the ball out of the backfield. Gaskin is listed at 194 pounds.
Michel’s journey out of college first saw him drafted as a first-round pick in 2018 by the New England Patriots. There, he found immediate success, winning the Super Bowl as a rookie and rushing for 336 yards and six touchdowns in the Patriots’ three playoff victories. Early that season, Michel had his first 100-yard rushing effort in a Week 4 win against the Dolphins, who entered 3-0.
Traded to the Los Angeles Rams ahead of last season, he ended up winning a second Super Bowl.
“Just keeping my head down and working,” he said of what he can bring the Dolphins from his championship experience. “I think that’s all I know. I think that’s all I’m going to continue to do — and earn my teammates’ trust.”
It’s fitting Michel returns to South Florida with a championship mindset. As a senior at American Heritage in 2013, he led the school to its first state football championship. Heritage has since won four more — three of them with former Dolphins cornerback and current defensive assistant Patrick Surtain as the school’s head coach. Surtain was in his first year as an assistant at the school when Michel was a senior.