Tag Archives: Donovan Varner

In just over a month, Duke and Richmond will kickoff the 2011 season under the lights in Wallace Wade Stadium

Football Friday, the extended version – previewing the Duke Offense

In just over a month, Duke and Richmond will kickoff the 2011 season under the lights in Wallace Wade Stadium

If you think football season is close, consider this: there is only one more Football Friday before Duke opens training camp. If that doesn’t get you excited, hopefully the rest of this column will. Early analysis suggests that this may be the longest Football Friday ever, so pace yourself!

No sales pitch this week. If you’re reading this, you already know how good BDN is. One other note: Duke football season tickets are still available, so if you haven’t got yours yet, time is running out. Away game tickets are also available, and we can say from experience that it’s a lot of fun to be part of the Duke faithful in watching a big Blue Devil road victory. Starting on August 1st, Duke will make single game home tickets available at GoDuke.

What happened?

I don’t know what else to say. Last weekend, all seemed well at the ACC Football Kickoff in Pinehurst. Though still somewhat hard to believe, Butch Davis continued to weather the storm and appeared poised to lead the Tar Heels in 2011. Then, Wednesday happened. For reasons that still remain unclear, Chancellor Holden Thorp fired Davis after a closed-door meeting with the Board of Trustees. Thursday, Athletic Director Dick Baddour announced that he will be stepping down as well, and the Tar Heels later tagged Defensive Coordinator Everett Withers as interim Head Coach. The timing of all this is puzzling, to say the least, and leaves the Tar Heel players, fans, and administration in a difficult position. In addition to the financial costs associated with Coach Davis’ termination, the Tar Heels will now have to pay off their stadium improvements. With many players, fans and boosters upset with the handling of the football scandal for one reason or another, UNC is certainly in an unenviable position. We could spend all Football Friday talking about the scandal and these recent developments, but we’ll just highlight two points:

  1. First, in the current climate of NCAA athletics, let’s be thankful for those who do things the right way. Duke is fortunate to be led by good people who want to win, and want to do it honestly. Thank you to Coach Krzyzewski, Coach Cutcliffe, Dr. Kevin White and Dr. Richard Brodhead for their outstanding character and dedication to Duke University. Every program has problems, but the Blue Devils’ leadership has handled these situations appropriately, consistently, and with class. And thank you to all of the coaches and administrators throughout the NCAA who continue to improve the lives of thousands of student-athletes and uphold the integrity of college athletics.
  2. Those responsible should be held accountable for the egregious transgressions within the North Carolina football program, athletic department, and academic administration. It appears that this is finally being done, and one could argue that there is no wrong time to do the right thing. That being said, this puts the football program in a difficult position, and while it may be difficult for any Duke fan to say something nice about a Tar Heel, we all want what’s best for the ACC and the student-athletes. We want to see the ACC become a more competitive football conference, and we want to see programs win the right way. Hopefully, the Tar Heels will eventually arise from this scandal as a better program and a more respectable member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

    Duke's Brandon Harper signed a free agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars this week

Congratulations to Duke’s Brandon Harper

With the NFL lockout finally over, Duke’s Brandon Harper was the first former Blue Devil to earn an opportunity as a professional, signing a free agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. BDN wishes the best of luck to Brandon and all of the Blue Devil alumni pursuing their NFL dreams!

Dondo Files, episode 4

Duke senior receiver Donovan Varner has started a video blog, the Dondo Files, and released episode 4 this week. He has great messages for young players and fans about hard work and achieving your goals. This week, he discusses being able to take constructive criticism. With that in mind, how about more than 1 touchdown this year, Donovan? In all seriousness, though, we’re looking forward to a big year from the senior receiver and are proud to have him as a role model for young Blue Devils and players everywhere.

BDN previews continue

We hope you’re enjoying our week-by-week preview of Duke’s 2011 opponents. This week, we wrapped up Duke’s first half of the season with Tulane and Florida International, two important, but tough, games for the Blue Devils to win. After the off week, Duke will face yet another top 10 opponent in Wallace Wade Stadium as the ACC-favorite Florida State Seminoles invade Durham. Check back next week for a look at FSU along with Duke’s week 8 opponent, Wake Forest.

Last week, we took a look around the Atlantic Coast Conference, and our predictions weren’t too terribly out of line with the rest of the ACC media. The Blue Devils landed two players on the preseason All-ACC team in WR Conner Vernon and K Will Synderwine. Now that we got the ACC predictions out of the way, let’s take an in-depth look at the team that really matters – the Blue Devils. There are high hopes for a bowl game in 2011, and a lot of that may depend on how good the Duke defense can be, but the reality is that the Duke offense will have to carry this team for much of the season. For that reason, we kickoff our 2011 Duke Football Team Preview with a look at the high-flying Blue Devils’ offense. If this unit lives up to expectations, there should be plenty of excitement in Wallace Wade Stadium this fall.

Duke QB Sean Renfree is ready to lead the 2011 Blue Devils Offense

BDN Duke Football 2011 Team Preview: Offense

With considerable youth and inexperience on defense, the 2011 Duke Football team will rely on a veteran offense that finished 2nd in the ACC in passing offense and 7th in total offense a year ago. While the Duke offense showed flashes of dominance in 2010, there will need to be dramatic improvements across the board if the Blue Devils hope to make a bowl in 2011.

Quarterback

Losses: none

Key returners: Sean Renfree (R-Jr.), Brandon Connette (So.)

Newcomers: Anthony Boone (R-Fr.)

2010 Review: In his first year as a starter, Sean Renfree showed glimpses of his potential, but overall was inconsistent in leading the Duke offense. In particular, Renfree struggled with turnovers, finishing the season with an ACC-high 17 interceptions. Coming off of season-ending knee surgery in 2009, Renfree’s mobility appeared to be limited at times, particularly early in the season. More importantly, and not unexpectedly, the redshirt-sophomore struggled with his confidence throughout the season, especially on the heels of Duke’s embarrassing loss to Alabama. Despite the struggles, it wasn’t all bad for Renfree. He led the Blue Devils to three wins, finished third in the ACC with 3,131 total yards and completed 61.4% of his passes, including a midseason stretch of 16 consecutive completions and 28/30 completions against Navy, both school records. The 3,131 yards were the 3rd highest total in Duke history and helped to earn him the Carmen Falcone Award as Duke’s Most Valuable Player. The biggest area for Renfree to improve is certainly turnovers, and he demonstrated tremendous growth throughout the 2010 season. After throwing 15 interceptions in the first 7 games of the season, Renfree finished the season with just 2 interceptions in the Blue Devils’ final 5 contests.

In 2010, dual-threat QB Brandon Connette served as Renfree’s primary back-up and earned significant playing time with his legs. Connette set a Duke freshman record with 8 rushing touchdowns and finished the year with 321 yards on 78 carries. He struggled to move the ball through the air when called upon, finishing just 10/22 with 2 interceptions.

2011 Outlook: Simply put, the Duke offense will rely heavily on the play of Sean Renfree. If Renfree is unable to significantly reduce his turnovers, the Blue Devils will not be bowling in 2011. Now nearly two years removed from knee surgery and with a year of starting experience under his belt, Renfree’s mobility and confidence should be drastically improved from this time last year. With three of his top four receivers returning, along with 4 of 5 offensive line starters, Renfree will be surrounded by familiar faces and will be counted on to lead the Blue Devil offense. While there is no doubt within the Duke program that Renfree is the clear starter, he will continue to be pushed by a sophomore Connette and redshirt-freshman Anthony Boone, which should only help the Duke offense. Reports from spring practice were overwhelmingly positive for all three quarterbacks and for Renfree in particular. Coach Cutcliffe has anointed Renfree as the best returning quarterback in the ACC in 2011, and believe he is poised to have a “special” season. If the Blue Devils plan on playing in December or January, he will have to play like the best quarterback in the conference.

 

Coach Cutcliffe has senior Donovan Varner and the Blue Devils expecting to win in 2011-GoDuke, Duke Photography

Wide Receiver

Losses: Austin Kelly

Key returners: Conner Vernon (Jr.), Donovan Varner (Sr.), Brandon Braxton (So.), Tyree Watkins (R-So.), Corey Gattis (R-So.)

Newcomers: Jamison Crowder (Fr.), Blair Holliday (Fr.), Nick Hill (Fr.)

2010 Review:  As you might expect, the performance of Duke’s wide receivers mirrored the ups and downs of QB Sean Renfree. Overall, Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon make up one of, if not the, top receiving tandem in college football. After his All-ACC campaign in 2009, Varner became just the 2nd Duke receiver to post back-to-back 60-reception seasons, finishing 2010 with 60 catches for 736 yards and 1 touchdown. After a breakout freshman season that earned him freshman All-American honors, Vernon topped his 2009 campaign with 73 catches for 946 yards and 4 touchdowns. The duo of Varner and Vernon partnered with senior Austin Kelly to form the top receiving trio in Duke history in 2010. Kelly battled injuries throughout his senior year, but still finished tied for the team lead with 4 touchdown catches. Outside of the top three, Duke’s younger receivers had an inconsistent 2010. After a good spring, freshman Brandon Braxton had an up and down season in his first year of college football, playing in 11 games and starting 5. Braxton finished 2010 with 14 catches and 1 touchdown; however, of those 14 receptions, 8 went for a Duke first down. Overall, fans should be excited with his potential and can pencil him in as the third starter alongside Varner and Vernon in 2011 after a strong offseason. Redshirt-freshmen Corey Gattis and Tyree Watkins saw the field sparingly in their first year of college eligibility.

2011 Outlook: Despite the loss of Kelly, Duke’s third-leading receiver in 2010, expectations are extremely high for the 2011 Duke receiving corps. Led by upperclassmen Varner and Vernon, this should be one of the top receiving units in the country. As good as Duke’s receivers were in 2010, they will need to be better in 2011, particularly in finding their way to the end zone and securing passes (not all of Dukes 2010 turnover troubles can be blamed on the QB). Expected improvements in the Duke running game should open up big play possibilities for Duke’s receivers, allowing them to eclipse their previous career highs. With Varner and Vernon likely to draw significant attention from opposing defenses, the opportunities will be there for Duke’s young receivers to step up and make plays. Braxton will get the first shot as the third starter at receiver, and is beginning to develop good chemistry with Renfree. Expect Braxton, Watkins, and Gattis to show dramatic improvement over 2010, and they should be pushed by true freshmen Blair Holliday and Nick Hill for playing time. The athletic ability of freshman Jamison Crowder will be hard to keep off the field, and he may find some time at slot receiver in certain offensive sets. Led by two determined, dynamic upperclassmen, this group has the potential to be the best in the ACC.

 

Senior Cooper Helfet will lead the Blue Devils' Tight Ends in 2011 - Rick Crank, BDN Photo

Tight End

Losses: Brett Huffman, Brandon King

Key returners: Danny Parker (R-Sr.), Cooper Helfet (Sr.), Jack Farrell (R-So.)

Newcomers: Braxton Deaver (R-Fr.), David Reeves (Fr.)

2010 Review: For the past several years, the Duke tight end position has been led by two warriors in Brett Huffman and Brandon King. Seemingly always injured, it took a lot to keep them off the field. With some struggles along the offensive line, Huffman and King were called upon to aid the Blue Devils’ blockers for much of their careers, and did so admirably. The Duke staff likes to move the tight end around in their offense, and the versatility of Huffman and King allowed them to thrive in multiple roles. While Huffman and King assumed roles as the unheralded warriors of the Duke offense, junior college transfer Cooper Helfet emerged as another potent weapon in Sean Renfree’s arsenal. After struggling with an ankle injury early in the season, Helfet finished the year with at least 4 catches in Duke’s final 5 games, leading the team in receiving in two contests and earning two ACC Player of the Week honors.

2011 Outlook: Huffman and King will not be easily replaced in the Duke offense, but with two seniors and a talented group of young players, the tight end should remain a strength for the 2011 Blue Devils. Helfet appears poised for a breakout senior campaign and will be joined by redshirt-senior Danny Parker, who redshirted in 2010 after seeing 232 snaps as a junior in 2009. Redshirt-freshman Braxton Deaver should be ready to contribute in his first season of college eligibility and true freshman David Reeves may be too good to keep off the field in his first year in Durham. The concern for this group will be replacing the blocking of Huffman and King, but their receiving numbers should improve over 2010.

 

Desmond Scott leads an improved Blue Devil running game

Running back

Losses: none

Key returners: Jay Hollingworth (Sr.), Patrick Kurunuwe (R-Jr.), Desmond Scott (Jr.), Josh Snead (So.), Juwan Thompson (So.)

Newcomers: none

2010 Review: The 2010 Duke running game had nowhere to go but up, finishing last in the FBS in rushing in 2009. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Blue Devils took significant steps forward in 2010, increasing their rushing averages by 46.5 yards per game and adding 13 more touchdowns on the ground from 2009. Still, Duke finished last in the ACC in rushing and 104th in the country in 2011. Desmond Scott led the Blue Devils in rushing for the second straight season, finishing with 549 yards and a 4.4 yards per carry average. Scott established himself as Duke’s best all-around back and endeared himself to the Duke faithful with his game-winning touchdown dive against Virginia. Freshman Josh Snead showed flashes of his ability before injuries interrupted his season, but still finished with a team-best 4.9 yards per carry. Fellow freshman Juwan Thompson saw his offensive role increase as he adjusted to the college game, but was primarily limited to kick return duty. Junior Jay Hollingsworth came on strong late in the season, igniting the Duke offense with impressive 2nd half runs against Miami. Redshirt-sophomore Patrick Kurunuwe saw limited action on offense and special teams.

2011 Outlook: Duke returns all of their running backs in 2011, along with four of five starters along the offensive line. While blocking may be partly to blame for Duke’s struggles in the running game, Duke’s rushers must continue to improve their vision, burst, and strength. Improved confidence could go a long way to improving Duke’s running, as some of Duke’s best runs in 2010 appeared to come when the Blue Devil backs were “running with a purpose.” Scott has emerged as the face of Duke’s running game, and must become a consistent threat both on the ground and through the air for the Duke offense. While Scott is likely to again see the majority of carries, Duke’s depth at running back means that there will be significant competition for snaps in training camp and throughout the season, which should force this group to continue to improve. Snead and Thompson should take a big step forward in their second year of college football, and the overall depth at running back should allow Duke to do a better job wearing down opposing defenses. Thompson, in particular, appears poised to be a breakout candidate for the Duke offense. While no one should expect Duke to become a great running team overnight, the pieces are there for the Blue Devils to continue to improve on the ground, open things up in the passing game, and keep opposing offenses off the field.

 

Brian Moore will slide to center and anchor the Duke offensive line in 2011-GoDuke Photo

Offensive Line

Losses: Bryan Morgan, Brandon Harper, Mitchell Lederman

Key returners: Kyle Hill (R-Sr.), Jon Needham (R-Sr.), Brian Moore (R-Jr.), Conor Irwin (R-Jr.), Dave Harding (R-So.), John Coleman (R-So.), Perry Simmons (R-So.)

Newcomers: Takoby Cofield (R-Fr.), Laken Tomlinson (R-Fr.), Marcus Aprahamian (Fr.), Lucas Patrick (Fr.), Cody Robinson (Fr.), Matt Skura (Fr.)

2010 Review: After watching Thaddeus Lewis play under seemingly constant pressure for four years, the Duke offensive line appeared to take a step forward in 2010. The group struggled again in run-blocking, but finished near the top of the ACC in sacks allowed per pass attempt. Morgan, though undersized, was the anchor up front, starting at center for 36 consecutive games. With little depth, the offensive line was asked to play through injury in 2010. For many weeks, Duke’s starters sat out practice but suited up on Saturday. That warrior mentality showed through on the field, as Duke improved their rushing by 46.5 yards per game, and the line successfully protected their first-year QB coming off knee surgery (25 sacks allowed, only 5.1% of dropbacks).

2011 Outlook: Of all the position groups on the Duke offense, the offensive line appears the most ready to take a big step forward in 2011. That being said, this group loses seniors Morgan and Harper and will need to continue to work hard and produce results on the field. Duke’s starting offensive line is expected to average close to 290 pounds in 2011, and that increased size and strength should help in both pass and run blocking.  For the first time since Coach Cutcliffe’s arrival in Durham, the Blue Devils will be able to go two-deep across the offensive line without significant drop-off. In fact, there should be interesting position battles in training camp at right tackle and right guard, where redshirt-freshmen Takoby Cofield and Laken Tomlinson will push Perry Simmons and John Coleman for snaps. A talented group of freshmen offensive linemen should help solidify the position for the next several years and could see the field in the event of a significant injury. For the first time in several years, Duke has multiple NFL prospects among their offensive linemen, led by Brian Moore, Kyle Hill, Laken Tomlinson, Takoby Cofield, and Cody Robinson. Overall, the size, skill, and depth has improved, but this group will need to produce results on the field for the Duke offense to realize its full potential.

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Recruiting updates

There’s more? Sure, why not? To reward our loyal members, let’s take a quick look at where Duke stands with a few uncommitted 2012 prospects:

Mallard Creek RB Jela Duncan is Duke's top remaining priority in the class of 2012

Running back: Jela Duncan is the guy here, and Duke would love to try and secure a commitment from him soon, though he seems content to wait out other offers. Earlier this week, we took a look at possible destinations for the Mallard Creek star, and the smart money is still on the Blue Devils here, whether it’s sooner or later. There’s no telling what will happen with North Carolina, but they remain in play for a few other backs, and with scholarship restrictions on the horizon, new offers will be few and far between. Scholarships are also scarce at South Carolina, another potential competitor for Duncan’s services. As for his current offers, Duncan hasn’t shown a lot of interest in Pittsburgh, Purdue, or Wake Forest up to this point. Some other prospects to keep an eye on include Dondre Brown, Jamie Gilmore, and Chris Mangus, but Duncan is the clear priority.

Braddock HS OL Robert Conyers recently visited Duke

Best available: Outside of running back, the Duke coaching staff feels very good about the class of 2012 and will be in a position to take the best available players with their last 2 or 3 scholarships. In the past week, Duke has hosted OL Robert Conyers and ATH Ryan Janvion, and it looks like a good bet that the Blue Devils will find themselves among the finalists for both of those Florida prospects.

In addition, we’ve long reported Duke’s interest in Korren Kirven, but they face a huge uphill battle against his in-state ACC schools and several top SEC programs. Kirven is expected to narrow his list soon, and it would be nice for the Blue Devils to make the cut, but there are no guarantees. Elsewhere along the defensive line, Duke is still very much in it for Alabama standout Torey Agee, and will likely be a finalist along with Vanderbilt. BDN’s thinking is that Auburn or Georgia Tech would jump to the lead for Agee, if they were to offer. Duke is a longer shot for Greensboro’s D.J. Reader, who plans to play both football and baseball in college. With the academic requirements at Duke, it takes a very dedicated student-athlete to balance classes along with two sports.

Duke has been the leader for top in-state linebacker Keilin Rayner, but something has kept him from pulling the trigger for the Blue Devils so far. He’s been busy on the camp circuit this summer, and we’ll see where things stand with him soon. It appears that other schools have closed the gap, but Duke is still in the running for his services and a good start in September could help the Blue Devils’ chances. Florida athlete Marcus Allen is another intriguing prospect who looks like a good fit in Durham with his success in the classroom and on the field, but with a Florida State offer in hand, it may be tough to pull him out of the sunshine state. California LB Jeremiah Allison is another star student-athlete who seems to fit the Duke mold, and if the Blue Devils can maybe get him on campus for an official visit, they could become a serious contender in his recruitment.

As always, BDN will keep you posted with new developments. By securing a solid 2012 recruiting class early in the summer, the Duke coaching staff has been able to get a head start on evaluating the class of 2013, and we’ll slowly start to introduce members to some of the early targets as we head into the fall.

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Ok, seriously, I can’t write any more, and I bet your eyes hurt if you’ve made it this far. So next week, Duke defense preview time. Until then, WE ARE DUKE.

Bayard Rustin WR Anthony Nash committed to Duke in July

Duke Football gets a commitment from 6’4″ WR Anthony Nash

Bayard Rustin's Anthony Nash committed to Duke on Sunday

Despite the recent success of Duke’s All-ACC receivers Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon, the program has lacked a long, physical receiver to create match-up problems with opposing cornerbacks. On Sunday, the Blue Devils added exactly that type of player with the verbal commitment of 6’4” 180 pound wide receiver Anthony Nash. Nash had a standout junior year at Bayard Rustin HS in West Chester, finishing with 62 catches for over 1300 yards and 16 touchdowns. His efforts earned him 1st Team All-League and 2nd Team All-Area in Pennsylvania. After a slow start to his recruitment, Nash made a name for himself on the east coast summer camp circuit. The big receiver chose the Blue Devils over North Carolina, Boston College, Purdue, and Penn State. BDN first spoke with Anthony after he earned a scholarship offer at Duke’s camp earlier this summer, and the newest Blue Devil checked in with BDN again shortly after he spoke with the Duke coaching staff today.

 

BDN: How did you come to the decision to commit to Duke today?

I had a conversation with my coach and my family and were talking about all the schools. We were talking about Duke and North Carolina, because I went to North Carolina this weekend. And I just felt like Duke would be the better fit for me for my future and my education in the long run. So I went with Duke.

BDN: You mentioned North Carolina as a school you were considering. What other schools were you seriously considering?

Boston College, Purdue, and the other school was Penn State.

BDN: What did the Duke coaching staff have to say when you informed them of your decision today?

They were thrilled. They were really happy. They were pumped up. Definitely Coach Cut, I talked to him and he said I made his day, so that felt good.

BDN: What are your plans for the rest of your summer?

Just to keep working hard and focus on my senior year.

BDN: Is there anything you want to say to Duke football fans?

Just be excited. Be excited.

BDN: Thanks a lot, Anthony, and congratulations.

Thanks!

Here's to you, Cameron Crazies!

Football Friday enters fashionably late

Here's to you, Cameron Crazies!

Football Friday comes to you fashionably late this week, and in abbreviated form so that you can get in line for Harry Potter early. Has anyone camped out for three months for seats to Harry Potter? I didn’t think so. That takes real dedication. Here’s to you, Cameron Crazies – and here’s hoping to see all of you in Wallace Wade Stadium this fall.

Duke WR Clarkston Hines will be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame Saturday

Clarkston Hines HOF 2011

Congratulations to Duke alumnus Clarkston Hines, who will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Indiana. The ceremonies will kick off at 9:30 AM and conclude with a dinner and ceremony at 7:30 PM. The “Frequent Flyer” holds Duke records in receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, and 100-yard receiving games. He also holds ACC records in touchdown receptions and 100-yard receiving games. The 1989 ACC Player of the Year, Hines led the Blue Devils to a share of the ACC Championship and was named a first team All-American.

To put some of Hines’ accomplishments in perspective, consider how his career compares to current Duke stars Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon.

Clarkston Hines (1986-1989): 189 receptions, 3319 yards, 38 touchdowns, 17 100-yard receiving games

Donovan Varner (2008-2010): 146 receptions, 1947 yards, 10 touchdowns, 7 100-yard receiving games

Conner Vernon (2009-2010): 128 receptions, 1719 yards, 7 touchdowns, 7 100-yard receiving games

While Varner and Vernon may have a chance to approach Hines’ reception total, they would have to put up some impressive seasons to approach his yardage, touchdown, or 100-yard game records. It’s clear that Hines is more than deserving of his enshrinement. Congratulations!

Duke QB Sean Renfree was named to the Davey O'Brien Award Watch List Friday

More preseason accolades

It wasn’t that long ago when Duke was being shut out of most national preseason Award Watch Lists. Well, the times, they are a’changin. This year, it might be hard for you to keep track, so let us recap for you:

SAF Matt Daniels: Athlon Sports 3rd Team All-ACC

TE Cooper Helfet: Mackey Award Watch List, CFPA TE Watch List, Athlon Sports 3rd Team All-ACC, Lindy’s Sports 2nd Team All-ACC

OT Kyle Hill: Athlon Sports 3rd Team All-ACC

C Brian Moore: Rimington Trophy Watch List

QB Sean Renfree: Davey O’Brien Award Watch List, CFPA QB Watch List, Athlon Sports 3rd Team All-ACC, Lindy’s Sports ACC “Strongest Arm”

K Will Snyderwine: Groza Award Watch List, CFPA K Watch List, Athlon Sports 1st Team All-ACC, Lindy’s Sports 1st Team All-ACC, Sporting News 2nd Team All-American, Sporting News 1st Team All-ACC

WR Donovan Varner: Biletnikoff Award Watch List, Athlon Sports 3rd Team All-ACC

WR Conner Vernon: Biletnikoff Award Watch List, CFPA WR Watch List, Athlon Sports 1st Team All-ACC, Lindy’s Sports 1st Team All-ACC, Sporting News 1st Team All-ACC, Sporting News ACC “Best Hands”

Got it now? There’s going to be a quiz at the end. Congratulations to the Blue Devils for their well-deserved recognition, but we know that it’s the post-season awards that they’re working to earn.

The Dondo Files

Speaking of Donovan Varner, don’t miss episode three of The Dondo Files. “Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.” – William Arthur Ward

Duke hosts Heisman favorite Andrew Luck and Stanford in week 2

2011 Opponent Previews

In case you missed them, be sure to check out our previews of Richmond and Stanford. They’re great reads and we are fortunate to have had the help of David Weissman and Hank Waddles to give us an inside look at Duke’s first two opponents. As you might expect, we’ll have a preview of Boston College, as well as Florida International, up this week, so be sure to check them out and spread the word that BDN has the best Duke Football coverage year-round.

2011 Bowl Games

Make no mistake, the goal for the Duke program is to play in Charlotte in December and the Orange Bowl in January. However, a lot will have to go right for that to happen, with maybe even some help from Harry Potter and friends. Coming off a 3-win 2010 in which the Duke defense struggled mightily and the offense was inconsistent, it might be more realistic to look at some other potential bowl destinations for the Blue Devils. If Duke is able to put together 6 wins or better in 2011, where might they end up playing in December or January?

The three best fits for Duke, at least geographically and a potential high-profile opponent, would be the Belk Bowl, the Music City Bowl, or the Military Bowl. The 2011 Belk Bowl will be held down I-85 in Charlotte on December 27th, and feature the #5 ACC team against a Big East opponent. The 2011 Music City Bowl will be held down I-40 in Nashville on December 7th, pitting the #6 ACC bowl team against an SEC opponent (with a sweet $3.675MM payout). If the Blue Devils were to be selected for the Military Bowl, they would likely face a familiar opponent in Navy on December 28th in Washington, DC.

The ACC also has a conditional agreement with the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, which will be played on New Year’s Eve in San Francisco, but let’s hope we won’t have to travel that far. Another option would be the Independence Bowl on December 26th against a MWC team in Shreveport, Louisiana. Of course, Duke fans would welcome the opportunity to travel to any of these games to support the Blue Devils, so you may want to start saving up those frequent flyer miles and hotel points for December!

Mallard Creek's Jela Duncan could be an impact player in Durham

Class of 2012 holds steady

Wow, we made it through an entire week without a Duke football commitment. It’s been awhile since we could say that. Duke has 13 solid verbal commitments in the class of 2012 and will hold their final few scholarships for potential impact players at RB, DL, LB, and WR. We’ve discussed the targets at length in previous weeks and on our Premium Message Board, but just to recap:

RB: Todd Gurley confirmed to BDN this week that he has dropped Duke from the schools he is considering. I gave my reaction to this news earlier this week on the message boards, but to summarize, Gurley is a tremendous talent, but may not have been the best fit at Duke University. Mallard Creek’s Jela Duncan, who posted a sub-4.3 40 time in Durham earlier this summer and boasts a 3.5 GPA, would certainly look good in Duke blue.

LB: We heard from Marcus Allen earlier this week, another great athlete out of the state of Florida. His recruitment will be competitive, but he’s exactly the type of student-athlete that could thrive in Durham. Keilin Rayner is a player who has been high on the Blue Devils throughout the process and with his interest in Sports Medicine, would be another great fit at Duke.

DL: The targets at this position have changed significantly in the past week, as the Virginia schools have locked up several verbal commitments. Woody Baron and Nigel Williams committed to Virginia Tech, giving the Hokies five defensive linemen in the class of 2012. Virginia added Courtnye Wynn, their third defensive line commitment in this class (they brought in seven DLs in the class of 2010). With a logjam on the defensive lines at UVA and VPI, could that help the Blue Devils with their recruitment of DT Korren Kirven? It certainly can’t hurt, but Duke will have to battle things out with over a dozen other top programs for the elite Lynchburg lineman. Outside of Kirven, Duke is still recruiting Torey Agee out of Alabama and in-state standout David Reader. Agee is on a visit to Vanderbilt this weekend, and Reader has recently decided to pursue both football and baseball at the collegiate level. At 6’3” and 300+ pounds with a 95 MPH fastball, Reader could certainly help the Blue Devils on the gridiron and the diamond.

WR: The Blue Devils are hoping to add a new element to their receiving corps with one more commitment in the class of 2012, and that could come in the form of elite Tennessee prospect Drae Bowles, or the lengthy Anthony Nash out of Pennsylvania.

ACC following in the SEC’s footsteps?

Except without the national championships. With the NCAA having investigated North Carolina and Georgia Tech for violations in their football programs, the ACC appears to be trending down a slippery slope. Fortunately, the majority of ACC programs continue to do things the right way, and Duke remains one of them. The Duke coaching staff, along with a top-notch compliance department, are sure to keep the program on track. With regards to Georgia Tech, though the NCAA noted a lack of cooperation with their investigation, the penalties ultimately should not have a great affect on the program. A fine, vacating wins, and probation hardly hurt the program where it counts going forward. In my opinion, the only NCAA penalties that have any noticeable effect involve the loss of scholarships or post-season participation. With many more violations having occurred in Chapel Hill, we’ll have to see if the NCAA chooses to enforce more significant penalties.

Tweet, tweet

They say this internet is going to be a big deal. You can keep up with all things Duke Football through us here at BDN, of course, or you can follow Duke Football on Twitter. We’re also on Facebook, as is Duke Football. Of course, the best way to stay informed about all things Duke athletics is to join BDN Premium. And if you need an invite to this new Google+ thing, shoot me an email.

We’re gaining steam now

We’ve been saying that football season is fast approaching for awhile now, and some of that might just be wishful thinking. Come next week, however, and it can no longer be denied. The ACC will host its Football Kickoff in Pinehurst on July 24-25, and the Blue Devils will be represented by Head Coach David Cutcliffe, along with QB Sean Renfree and SAF Matt Daniels. Just two weeks after the ACC Football Kickoff, the Blue Devils will take the field for fall training camp. As always, you can rely on BDN to have the best coverage of all things Duke Football. After all, WE ARE DUKE.

6'4" WR Anthony Nash could bring a new dynamic to the Duke passing game

Big WR Anthony Nash could bring a new dynamic to the Duke passing game

6'4" WR Anthony Nash could bring a new dynamic to the Duke passing game

Under Head Coach David Cutcliffe, the Blue Devil offense has featured some of the best receivers in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the country. This fall, Duke fans hope to watch All-ACC candidates Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon help lead the Blue Devils to a bowl game. With Varner listed at 5’9” and Vernon at 6’2,” the Duke offense has been lacking a long, physical receiver to create match-up problems with opposing cornerbacks. With only a few available scholarships remaining in the class of 2012, Duke could still use a big, physical receiver, and Bayard Rustin’s Anthony Nash could be a big target. At 6’4” and 180 pounds, Nash had a standout junior year, finishing with 62 catches for over 1300 yards and 16 touchdowns. His efforts earned him 1st Team All-League and 2nd Team All-Area in Pennsylvania. After a slow start, Nash’s recruitment has heated up on the camp circuit this summer, where he recently earned a Duke offer. Duke fans are hopeful that Nash will join the Duke class of 2012 and bring a new dynamic to their offense. [private]

 

BDN: What are some of your strengths as a player?

My strength as a player is my size. As a wide receiver, it’s hard for corners to jump with me. I have good speed for my size, I run a 4.3-4.4 40.

BDN: What are some of the things you have been working on this offseason?

Definitely footwork, a lot of footwork, and my route running.

BDN: What are your goals for your senior year?

For my senior year, just to play well as a team, hopefully win a state championship and just do better than we did in the past few years.

BDN: What are the most important things you are looking for in a college?

Education, if they have a good education, then that’s going to benefit me in the long run. Certainly to see if they have my major, I want to study animal science because I want to be a veterinarian.

BDN: Which schools have been recruiting you the hardest, or have you had the most contact with?

Duke, they gave me an offer when I went up there for camp. I’ve been in a lot of contact with North Carolina, Maryland, and Boston College. Boston College wants me to take a visit up there, they say they have an offer waiting for me, so we’ll see how that goes if I take a visit, probably in August, to Boston College. I’m going to North Carolina, in July, July 22.

BDN: Are both of those visits for camps, or just unofficial visits?

North Carolina is a 7-on-7 thing.

BDN: You mentioned you took a visit to Duke already; which other schools have you had a chance to visit?

I took a visit to Penn State and to Connecticut, that was awhile ago, though.

BDN: Can you talk a little about what you liked so far on your visits?

I liked Penn State because they have a nice campus and they have a nice football facility as well, plus their history, that brings them out more. Connecticut was fine, it was a little small, though, so I didn’t really care about it that much, but it was pretty cool. The camp at Duke went well, pretty good. I was impressed with it also.

BDN: Do you have an idea for how or when you would like to narrow things down and make your decision?

I’m going to wait it out. I’m going to see in August if I can cut it down to my top 3 schools and then maybe in September make my decision.

BDN: Thanks a lot, Anthony, and best of luck to you.

Thank you, you too.

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Coach Cutcliffe has senior Donovan Varner and the Blue Devils expecting to win in 2011-GoDuke, Duke Photography

T.G.I. Football Friday

Happy Friday, Blue Devil Nation! A nice, shortened week should make you feel good but if not, Football Friday is here to satisfy your weekly football craving. As you know, there’s never an offseason here at BDN, and Mark Watson and Andrew Slater have been burning the midnight oil all week with great basketball coverage. Be sure to check it out, and invite your friends to join our growing community of Duke fans. If you tell two people, and they tell two people, well, then that’s some kind of crazy math that I don’t remember how to do. Before my brain stops working, we better get going…

Blue Devils feeling the love

Coach Cutcliffe has senior Donovan Varner and the Blue Devils expecting to win in 2011-GoDuke, Duke Photography

Four Duke players were named to preseason Award Watch Lists this week, while a few others may have been overlooked. Coming off a three win season, it’s only natural that Duke might have a few players fly under the radar on the national level, but that should all change this fall, as the Blue Devils pursue bowl eligibility. In any case, it’s a nice honor for the Duke players who were recognized this week, and we congratulate them, but look forward to an even better 2011.

Cooper Helfet – John Mackey Award Watch List

Will Snyderwine – Lou Groza Award Watch List

Donovan Varner – Biletnikoff Award Watch List

Conner Vernon – Biletnikoff Award Watch List

The Dondo Files

Part of our job here at BDN is to help give fans an inside look at the Duke players and coaches. Sometimes, however, the players and coaches do the job for us. This week, Duke’s star senior WR Donovan Varner created the first entry in his self-produced video blog, The Dondo Files. Varner is poised for a big senior year, and we hope his video blog will be a good inside look into his season, and the Blue Devils’ first bowl game in over a decade.

Sir Nolan Smith models a Middle Child shirt

Middle Child

Another interesting venture by two Blue Devils is Middle Child, a clothing line created by Johnny Williams and marketed by Matt Daniels. For those who missed Johnny’s cartoon series for GoDuke last year, take a look at his clothing designs, which show off the Duke cornerback’s impressive artistic ability. And if ndotsmitty is wearing it, you know it’s hot!

Doing work in the classroom

While we’re applauding the Blue Devils’ off the field efforts, it’s important to point out that last year’s team had a cumulative GPA of 3.1, which included 13 ACC All-Academic selections, more than twice any other school. As we’ve said before, it’s great to see that as Duke builds the program on the field, they continue to uphold the university’s strong academic reputation. The Duke players are setting themselves up for a great future and truly embody the concept of the student-athlete.

Come on, come on…

Kickoff on September 3 is just 57 days away, with training camp opening in just a few short weeks, so be sure to get your season tickets now. With spring practice having wrapped up in March, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen the Blue Devils on the field in Wallace Wade Stadium. For the Duke Football faithful, we share your pain, and hope that these last few weeks fly by. We’ve kicked off our opponent preview series this week to help speed things up for you. Be sure to check out the Richmond preview, and check back on Sunday for our Stanford preview. In the meantime, if anyone happens to see me camped outside of Wallace Wade like Eric Cartman waiting for the Nintendo Wii, can you bring me a sandwich?

Duke and Richmond will kickoff the 2011 under the lights in Wallace Wade Stadium on September 3

Please make sure you have all your belongings…

…as you exit Football Friday. While we love to share with the whole class, we also like to reward our Premium Members. We have the latest recruiting information for Duke’s class of 2012, and well, you’ll just have to join to find out…[private]

A slow recruiting week!

We’re all for the fast-paced summer recruiting season, but it is nice to be able to catch your breath every once in awhile. While it’s impossible to predict things in recruiting, it seems like things may slow down a little bit as we head into training camp. Duke has 13 commitments in the class of 2012, with an absolute maximum of 18 scholarships available. The coaching staff would like to add 4 more players to this class, and will hold a spot for a potential program-changer, should he decide to be a Blue Devil late in the recruiting season. Here are the staff’s remaining targets.:

Running backs

Jela Duncan 5’10” 190 pounds, Charlotte, NC

Todd Gurley 6’1” 195 pounds, Tarboro, NC

Linebackers

Marcus Allen 6’2” 210 pounds, Hilliard, FL

Keilin Rayner 6’3” 220 pounds, Leland, NC

Wide Receivers

Drae Bowles 6’1” 198 pounds, Jackson, TN

Anthony Nash 6’5” 185 pounds, West Chester, PA

Defensive linemen

Torey Agee 6’3” 250 pounds, Opelika, AL

Woody Baron 6’3” 252 pounds, Brentwood, TN

Korren Kirven 6’4” 272 pounds, Lynchburg, VA

David Reader 6’2” 340 pounds, Greensboro, NC

Nigel Williams 6’3” 260 pounds, Richmond, VA

Courtnye Wynn 6’6” 240 pounds, Norfolk, VA

A couple notes on this group: Todd Gurley has been in France, running track for Team USA, which has led him to miss “The Opening” in Oregon this week. Korren Kirven is the only member of this group that is in Oregon, and while Duke has made a good impression, the reality is that he may be a long-shot for the Blue Devils. Woody Baron, as we reported awhile ago, appears to be down to Virginia Tech and Vanderbilt, but if Duke could get a visit, you never know.

Do you like surprises? Well, I actually am not a big fan, so I’ll just give you the update. Once the dust settles on the LBJ and Adidas coverage, we’ll have new interviews with Marcus Allen, Keilin Rayner, Anthony Nash, and David Reader. We’ll be getting in touch with the other remaining targets, too, but we have to pace ourselves!

Thanks for being a member and a loyal Football Friday patron. We hope you enjoy our coverage and always would love to hear more from you on the message boards.

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WE ARE DUKE.

 

The Blue Devils will open the 2011 football season at home against Richmond September 3

BDN takes an in-depth look at the Duke Football opener vs. Richmond

The Blue Devils will open the 2011 football season at home against Richmond September 3

Is it September 3rd yet? Well, not quite, Duke Football faithful, but we know the feeling. With 60 days until kickoff, it’s no longer too early to take an in-depth look at Duke’s 2011 opponents. Over the next several weeks, BDN will team up with other college football insiders to preview the 2011 Duke schedule. Season tickets are on sale now at GoDuke.com, or through the Duke Ticket Office at (919) 681-BLUE.

For the Blue Devils, there is no game more important than the first one, which is a September 3rd matchup with the Richmond Spiders under the lights in Wallace Wade Stadium. Duke has opened with home games against the Spiders twice in recent years, and Richmond has emerged victorious in both contests. The last meeting occurred in 2009; the Spiders were the aggressors from the start, spoiling the opening to Duke QB Thad Lewis’ record-setting senior year with a 24-16 victory. Though the Blue Devils outgained the Spiders overall, Richmond was able to control the line of scrimmage, stifling the Duke running game and scoring two touchdowns on the ground. Mike London has since left the program for Charlottesville, and in 2010, the Spiders finished 6-5 under first year Head Coach Latrell Scott. Though many of the coaches and players have changed, the Spiders are still expected to be among the top programs in the FCS in 2011, and their strengths continue to be along the line of scrimmage. In 2010, Duke struggled to consistently run the ball effectively and was among the worst FBS defenses against the run, making the 2011 opener with Richmond an intriguing early season test for the Blue Devils.

To get an inside look at the 2011 Spiders, BDN was fortunate enough to have the help of David Weissman, Online Sports Editor for The Collegian at the University of Richmond.

Latrell Scott became the youngest HC in Division I football when he replaced Mike London after the 2009 season. Photo Credit-RichmondSpiders.com
BDN: What have been the biggest changes within the Richmond program since Latrell Scott replaced former Head Coach Mike London?
The changes are few and far between as Richmond understandably didn’t want a huge change with Coach London having as much success here as he had. Coach Scott actually coached under London for a few years and I think he realizes that he didn’t need to mix too many things up in the program to have success. I’d say the biggest change I’ve noticed is in offensive philosophy. Coach Scott’s offense proved much more run-oriented than in years prior and he seems to keep trying to establish the run throughout the game no matter how much success it is having. It’s tough to tell if the offense will continue that trend this year or if the high amount of run plays called last year was an anomaly due to the quarterback injuries Richmond had last season.

BDN: The Spiders started four different quarterbacks in 2010 due to injuries. How has USC transfer Aaron Corp recovered from midseason ACL surgery, and what are the expectations for the Spiders’ offense in 2011?
Based on all that I’ve heard coming from camp is that Corp is fully recovered and ready to go, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll carry the entire load at the quarterback position. Junior John Laub, who also got injured last season, was getting snaps even when Corp was completely healthy last year and London seems to like to put him in the game to run quarterback draws on third and short situations. As for the rest of the offense, the running game should be the strength with the offensive line looking stronger than last year and a number of backs that have shown the ability to have breakout games, led by Garrett Wilkins and Kendall Gaskins. The wide receivers are also looking good, but suffered last year without a consistent starter throwing them the ball. Senior Tre Gray is the most consistent of the bunch, with sophomore speedster Ben Edwards looking like he might have a breakout season.  

BDN: Richmond will have to replace several starters from last year’s defense, including CAA Defensive Player of the Year Eric McBride. Which players are expected to step up this fall, and which positions still have question marks?

The defense as a whole will definitely determine how many games the Spiders win this year. They were really inconsistent last season, at times looking unmovable and others, like they didn’t start trying until the opponent was in the redzone. Martin Parker, Eric McBride, and Justin Rogers (who was drafted by the Bills) are going to be tough to replace as they anchored all three lines of defense for Richmond for as long as I can remember, but there is definitely no lack of talent to fill in. The major buzz coming out of camp is around safety Cooper Taylor who just transferred to Richmond from Georgia Tech. Some other guys the Spiders expect to step up are cornerback Tremayne Graham, linebacker Darius McMillan, and defensive lineman Corey Jackson. The biggest question marks look to be the linebacking corps, as the Spiders will need a couple young guys to step up into starting roles without much experience.
The Richmond Spiders have emerged victorious in their last two trips to Durham. Photo credit-The Collegian

BDN: Richmond has won both of their last two trips to Durham. Why do you think the Spiders have had success against the Blue Devils?

It’s hard to say why Richmond has been successful against Duke specifically, but I do know that as a whole, Richmond has a history of stepping up their level of play against the bigger, more well-known schools in all sports. The coaches do a good job of not letting the name on the opponent’s jersey affect the way their players prepare and play, and I think maybe sometimes schools like Duke underestimate the ability of Richmond’s athletics. A lot of the players here at Richmond were on the radar of ACC or SEC-type schools, but end up here and I think these guys like to be given the chance to show opposing coaches of these schools what they missed out on.

BDN: If you were an opposing coach, how would you plan to attack the Richmond defense and slow the Spiders’ offense?

My gameplan would be dependent on my two lines. I’d say the keys to defeating Richmond are running the ball and stopping the run. The experience that Richmond does have on defense is mostly on the back end and I think the young guys on the line and in the linebacking corps could lead to a few big plays on the ground if you keep at it. As for defensively, London loves to run the ball as I mentioned before and the quarterbacks for Richmond did throw a good number of interceptions last year when they got put in third and long situations.

BDN: Thanks again for your help and insight, David!

Next Week: September 10, Stanford at Duke.

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