After a one-point loss in triple overtime of an end-of-the-summer AAU event, 6'7" Noah Vonleh, an amiable gym rat from Haverhill, Massachusetts comes over and tries to collect his thoughts. The son of a nurse who escaped war-ravaged Western Africa in the mid-90s is preparing for his own move in the coming weeks. The fifteen year-old decided to leave the comfort of his local public high school, Haverhill, where he dominated the competition, averaging eighteen points, seventeen rebounds, seven assists, and five blocks.
From his home in the formerly thriving industrial city, Haverhill, on the outskirts of Boston, he's heading an hour north to a New England prep school, New Hampton, the chief rival of Brewster Academy (where Duke recruit Mitch McGary attends) that has produced ex-NBA players Lawrence Moten, Darius Songalia, and Rashad McCants as well as former Duke Blue Devil, J.D. Simpson. The versatile forward has also decided to reclassify to the 2014 class, in order to acclimate himself to his new school and the NEPSAC AAA league, the most challenging high school league in the country. New Hampton, located in the foothills of New Hampshire's White Mountains, is coming off of a very good year, where they made a run to the NEPSAC Finals.
Vonleh, who enjoys a 7'4" reach, anticipates that he will have to deal with bigger, stronger, and older players than in his prior Merrimack Valley league. The hard-working forward is eager to utilize the valuable facilities that New Hampton enjoys and the easy access that he'll have to them. One person who will help in his adjustment is his Massachusetts Rivals AAU teammate and fellow high-major recruit, 6'9" Zach Auguste, who played for the New Hampton Huskies last season. This AAU season, the duo has helped Coach Vincent Pastore, Vonleh's longtime AAU coach and mentor to former McDonald's All-American Scott Hazelton, enjoy a few successful runs over the past few months, including recently at the Super 64 in Las Vegas and the Best of Summer Showcase in Southern California. Vonleh, who was one of only seven 2014 prospects to attend the LeBron James Skills Academy, has generated interest from both of the "Tobacco Road" schools and offers from several big-time programs, including Kansas, Syracuse, UCLA, Pittsburgh, Arizona, and Florida.
Always respectful, but understandably exhausted, Noah gave Blue Devil Nation a quick update on his future and a recap of his summer.
I'm sorry to have to talk to you after a terrible loss like this, but what went into your decision to transfer to New Hampton and reclassify to the 2014 class? Why did you choose to do it and what are you hoping to get out of it? Yeah, I'm going to New Hampton and I'm going to be in the class of 2014. The reason why I left is that the prep school competition is a lot better than the high school competition that I've faced so far. I really think it'll help make me a lot better. I'm really looking forward to it.
[private] Staying with that theme, tell the audience both a little bit more about both the level of competition that you'll see in the New England prep school leagues and the recent rise of New England overall on a national stage. Both have gotten a lot better in recent years. Yeah, there's a real rush of great players coming out right now. Andre Drummond, Ricky Ledo, Nerlens and a lot of players have helped to show what we're capable of this summer. I'm not really sure why, but it's great to see.
Not that it's extremely uncommon anymore, but what went into your decision to reclassify? Yeah, well, I'm still only fifteen years old so I felt that it wouldn't be a big deal and hopefully would help me when I went to my new school and got used to their facilities and competition. I think it'll help me get bigger and better in my time in high school. I'm going to be playing against a lot stronger players and competition, you know. I mean some of these guys'll be a lot older.
As you mentioned, you're still so young, but what is it like playing in front of the college coaches? Does it get you excited or motivated? Yeah, it kind of gets me nervous and motivated. I want to play my best and perform in front of the college coaches.
Absolutely, what are your offers and what schools are expressing interest in you? Providence, Syracuse, BC, Georgia Tech, Kansas… Duke has shown interest and actually so has UNC. That’s all I can think of right now.
What about a position? What do you view yourself as? A small forward or a combo forward, I guess. Probably a small forward.
What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses? I think scoring the ball and my versatility because I’m able to score inside and post up against smaller players or I can take bigger guys off of the dribble from the outside or just shoot over them.
Speaking of that, do you prefer to play with your back to the basket or face-up? In this game, you played a lot more with your back to the basket, but a lot of other games you stay outside or move around. Oh, yeah, definitely face-up.
Have you taken any visits and do you have any planned? I haven’t taken any visits really. I think I’m going to wait. I don’t have any plans.
What are you looking for, ideally, whenever you do decide? A school that will make me better, a school that will push me, both on the court and academically, and that will help me in school. I also like to be comfortable with the players and coaches. Just a place that I’d like to be.
Will distance be a factor? No, it won’t be.
What are your goals for this high school season? To help my team become successful and for me to get better.
How do you feel you did in your original sophomore year at Haverhill this year? Yeah, Haverhill. I thought I did well, but the competition wasn’t really great. I think I played well overall, but we didn't win as many games as we probably should or could've, which was a little frustrating.
How do you feel you’ve played so far this AAU season? I thought I’ve been playing really good this year. We’ve done well as a team, which is important and we've got some good talent here too. We've been able to beat and compete against a lot of good teams, which is also important. I think I’ve done really well. I feel like I’m competing against my rivals.
Whenever you do decide, who will you turn to for guidance? My AAU coach, Vincent Pastore, and my mom.
Speaking of your mom, how does your family feel about you going away to school this year? Are they excited for you? Or are they sorry to see you leave? They’re very excited for me. They can’t wait for me to go. They think it’s a great opportunity.
Who do you try to model your game after? Kevin Durant. We’re around the same size and I guess I just love to watch him play.
How do you feel you shoot the ball? What do you think is your range? Well, I think I can shoot it all the way to the three point line. I just didn’t shoot it well today. I'm not sure what happened.
No, no, don’t worry about that. I’ve seen you shoot the ball well before. Who’s the toughest player you’ve ever gone against? I guess the toughest player I’ve gone against is Nerlens Noel. He blocks everything. Yeah, it’s like he’s got a broomstick out there or something.
From what we touched on before, what are you looking forward to gaining from facing the competition you’re going to see next year? I’m looking for guys to keep pushing me and competing with me and helping me to get better, both on my team and the teams we’ll be facing. I’m looking forward to working with my new coaches, too.
Other than Zach (Auguste), do you know any of your teammates or coaches pretty well at this point? Yeah, Zach Auguste. Zach helped me and encouraged me to go there. It’s good to know somebody who’s actually there right now. Also, Mike Auger, who's out here.
Did the coaches there talk to you about what your role will be or what their expectations will be of you? No, not really. They’re going to tell me when I get there.
How far will it be from your hometown of Haverhill? It’ll be about an hour, maybe a little bit more. Not too far.
Earlier you mentioned that the two Tobacco Road schools, Duke and North Carolina, had expressed interest in you. Oh, yeah, they've both shown interest so far.
What do you know about the programs? Two things…they get a lot of players to the NBA and they win National Championships. (Laughs)
What would like the audience to know about you, on or off the court? That I work very hard at basketball and take it very seriously. I try to put in a lot of hours…day or night.
Thanks very much. Yeah, I really appreciate it.[/private]
Three years after trying organized basketball for the first time, 6'11" Prince Ibeh played in a very lightly attended AAU evening game on the outskirts of Las Vegas. There were sixteen coaches in attendance, however, including three Duke coaches: Mike Krzyzewski, Jeff Capel, and Steve Wojciechowski. Ibeh, who wields a 7'4" wingspan, has landed on the radars of high-major programs like Texas, Florida, Maryland, and Vanderbilt by possessing a tantalizing mix of size, athleticism, and upside.
For the majority of this AAU season, the 2012 prospect has been the defensive stalwart and veteran presence on a young Texas Titans team, where Ibeh, who has added more than twenty pounds of muscle, was a teammate of both Dallas-area Duke 2013 recruits Julius Randle and Matt Jones. The Garland, Texas product's performance at the Amar'e Stoudemire Skills Academy earned him an invitation to Akron's LeBron James Skills Academy. His length, lateral quickness, and quick-twitch second jump has made him into one of the better shot-blockers among the rising seniors.
Recently, he spoke with Blue Devil Nation about Duke's recent interest, his unique first name, playing with Randle, and the keys to being a good shot-blocker.
For those that may only recently have seen you play, touch on your growth as a player over the past few years? Yeah, a couple of years ago, I was pretty bad. (laughs) I was just starting and I guess I just got used to my body. I practiced a lot more and things started to fall into place.
In terms of your offensive growth or progression, where do you view it now and how far do you feel that you have to go? Where do you think it needs to be? I think it needs to get a lot better, but it's actually improved a lot.
Yeah, I think that your comfort level on offense and filling out your body have been the two biggest things that you've improved on since last year. Yeah, absolutely.
With respect to recruiting, what schools are after you right now? Duke, Texas, Florida, Florida State, Vanderbilt, Ohio State, Maryland, and then Baylor and a couple of other schools.
You must be, at least, a pretty good student. Yeah, I am.
What was it like playing with Randle and Jones earlier? You were sort of their man in the middle to sweep up any mistakes. Oh, it was good, but I didn't have like any offensive sets on that team. (laughs) So, it was really just a defensive role, but it was nice playing with them.
You get a lot more touches on this team? Yeah, but I knew what I was getting in to… (laughs)
What are your strengths and weakness right now? My strengths are rebounding and blocking shots…pretty much defense.
Well, what do you feel are some areas for improvement? Yeah, I really need to improve my shooting…my free throw shooting. Well, you hit the one you took in this game. (Laughs) Yeah, I was glad I made that one.
Do you view yourself more as a four or five? A four.
Can you tell the audience a little bit about yourself away from the court? Well, first of all, how did you get that name?
Prince? Yeah. My mom thought I was going to be a girl and so she was going to name me "Princess," (laughs) but I ended up a boy and, so, I've tried to make the most of it. (laughs) Sure, that wasn't exactly the answer I was expecting (laughs). Back to telling the audience a bit about yourself away from the court… Yeah, I'm pretty laid-back. I just like to hang out with friends and listen to music. That's pretty much it.
Okay, by the way, in terms of distance, will that be a big factor for you? It seems like you've got schools all around the country, but I had heard that you might want to stay near your family in Texas. No, it won't be much of a problem.
With respect to your timeline, do you still view this as early in the process for you? Late? I had heard you'd like to sign in the early period. Yeah, I want to decide sometime in November. You want to take some visits? Yeah, definitely.
Have you taken any unofficial visits recently and do you have any planned? No, I haven't taken any that I'd call very recently and I don't plan on taking any more unofficial visits. I think I'm just going to take my official visits.
Who will you turn to for guidance, whenever you do sit down and decide?
Coach (Lawrence) Mann, who's my AAU coach, and my high school coach, Coach (Jeff) Clarkson
What are you looking for ideally, whenever you do decide?
A good coaching staff and a good opportunity to play…things like that
How long have you been playing basketball and what other sports have you played through your life?
I used to play mostly football. That was basically all I played, until my freshman year. My freshman year was when I started playing basketball.
So, it is true that you've really only been playing basketball for about three years.
Yeah, for better or worse, I've only been playing since my freshman year.
Any chance of seeing you at wide receiver or defensive end?
(laughs) Yeah, well, I used to actually play both wide receiver and defensive end.
How long did it take you to adjust to a new team? The Titans? Yes. Sure, it didn't take too long. I kind of understood right when I got there that they already had a system and how they were going to do things. I didn't need much time.
Are you a Mavericks fan? How did you feel about them winning the title? Oh, I hate the Mavericks. (laughs)
(laughs) I'm trying here. You're sort of known as a defensive and rebounding specialist. Who's been the toughest guy for you to defend? There isn't one guy that comes to the top of my head, but Julius (Randle) probably would've been. Yeah, I was going to ask you about the best teammate that you've had, but I guess Julius would be your answer. Sure, that would definitely be Julius.
What are some of your goals for the high school season, both individually and as a team? Oh, well, for the team, we want to win the state championship this coming year. You guys didn't make it quite as far as you wanted to this year. Yeah, definitely, we lost in the second round of the playoffs, but I think we'll do a lot better this year.
In terms of Duke specifically, what do you know about the program and who has contacted you from their staff? Coach Capel has called me. I don't know too much about the program, but I know that it's a good program.
What do you feel are the keys to being a good shot-blocker? Timing? Positioning? Yeah, timing and positioning…oh, and athleticism, I guess. Well, you sent one shot into the third row in this game. (laughs)
Rather than necessarily having a player that you model your game after, who's your favorite player right now? Oh, definitely Kevin Durant.
Where do you prefer to catch the ball on offense? In the high post.. Sort of around the foul line extended, where you were catching the ball a lot in this game and against the zone Yeah, that's right.
Does playing in front of college coaches have affect your play at all? Does it change your emotions at all? It makes it a lot more frustrating when you make a mistake. It magnifies things, but I think it also makes people or, at least, me play harder and more consistently.
Do you think it affects players or teammates in general? Yeah, I think it does affect them, but some just don't want to admit it or say that it changes them a bit.
How do you feel that you've played throughout the AAU season, both here and with the Titans? I feel like I've played pretty good overall. I feel like I've grown and contributed. I would've liked to have scored with the ball a little bit more, but things happen.
Staying with that and we touched on it before, but where would you like to be offensively by the time that you reach college? Where do you view as the area that you can improve most rapidly before college? Low-post play? Improving your shooting from the outside? Yeah, I think improving my low-post play and developing more low-post moves in general. It would help make it tougher on defenders, I think.
Do you work on that often? What's your schedule typically like? How much time do you put into improving yourself on the court? Yeah, I try. I work out about three times a week. Um, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. With a trainer or by yourself? How does that work? Sometimes by my self.
Alright, well, thank you very much, Prince. Thank you very much.[/private]
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Key returners: Jay Hollingworth (Sr.), Patrick Kurunuwe (R-Jr.), Desmond Scott (Jr.), Josh Snead (So.), Juwan Thompson (So.)
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
The Duke Football class of 2012 is up to 14 verbal commitments now, and with only a handful of scholarships remaining, the Blue Devils’ coaching staff is looking to add a few impact players. One such prospect is a highly-coveted offensive lineman from the talent-rich state of Florida. Duke recently hosted 6’5” 275 pound junior Robert Conyers on an unofficial visit in Durham. Conyers is one of the top remaining uncommitted offensive linemen in the class of 2012, with 20 scholarship offers from programs throughout the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, and SEC. As a junior, Conyers helped lead Braddock HS to an 8-2 overall record and the state playoffs. His performance earned 1st Team All-County and 2nd Team All-State honors. Duke Offensive Line Coach Matt Luke is developing a talented group of linemen in Durham, and a potential star like Conyers would be a great late addition to Duke’s class of 2012. [private]
BDN: Can you tell us a little bit about your high school career and your strengths on the field?
Well, I only started playing offensive line at the end of my sophomore year. I went to a bunch of camps, and this past year I made the All-County Team and the 2nd Team All-State. Some of my strengths are just my footwork and my aggression.
BDN: You mentioned that you’ve been able to attend a few camps this year; what are some of the things you’re working on as you head into your senior season?
Just my strength and my pad level.
BDN: I know you have a pretty long offer list, so I won’t ask you to name all of the schools that are interested in you, but where do you currently stand with scholarship offers?
I have about 20 scholarship offers right now. And some of the bigger ones are Michigan State, Duke, USF, Wake Forest, Illinois, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, UCF, and a couple other ones.
BDN: That’s an impressive total. Where would you say you are in your recruiting process right now?
Right now I’m looking to narrow it down. I’m going to visit Michigan State and Illinois and then I’ll have like a top 5 probably after I make that trip.
BDN: Obviously, it will be tough to narrow things down to five schools, but what are the most important things that you are looking for as you evaluate a program?
Just the school’s atmosphere, the coaching staff, and the way I feel when I’m around them and around the other players that are playing there currently.
BDN: Which schools have you had a chance to visit so far and have any stood out to you?
I’ve visited Wake Forest, Duke, Vanderbilt, Georgia, LSU, Florida, Miami…I visited UCF, USF, and some of the schools that are standing out to me are USF, Wake Forest, Duke, just because of their coaching staffs and the total package of the school.
BDN: You mentioned that you’d like to have a top 5 after these next couple of visits. What are your plans for narrowing things down and making a decision from there?
Probably going to take like 2 or 3 official visits, but most likely the middle of my season is when I’m going to make my decision.
BDN: Are there any schools that you think you definitely want to take an official visit to at this point?
I’m still kind of narrowing all that down.
BDN: Is there anything else you want college football fans to know about you?
That I’m only 16.
BDN: Thanks a lot, Robert, and best of luck to you.
On October 1st, Head Coach David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils will take their first (of two) trips to Miami to take on the Florida International Golden Panthers. The Blue Devils and Golden Panthers will play a home-and-home series, with FIU traveling to Durham in 2012. When Duke first scheduled the home-and-home with FIU, the youngest program in the FBS, many fans questioned the agreement, but one look at the high school football talent in South Florida should silence the critics. The October 1st matchup will kickoff at 6 PM ET on ESPN3 and will serve as FIU’s Homecoming Game.
Of course, for the Blue Devils’ trip to Miami to pay off in the long run, Duke must come away with a victory, a task easier said than done. The Golden Panthers enter 2011 as the defending Sun Belt co-Champions and winners of the 2010 Little Caesars Bowl. Led by reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year TY Hilton, the Golden Panthers feature a dynamic offense that returns 8 starters. Defensively, the Golden Panthers lose senior leader Anthony Gaitor, but return leading tackler DB Jonathan Cyprian to anchor the secondary. Florida International is the consensus pick to defend their Sun Belt title, and the Blue Devils will certainly have their hands full under the lights in FIU Stadium.
As the youngest program in the FBS, it’s no surprise that Duke fans may be unfamiliar with the 2010 Sun Belt Co-Champions. To fill us in on the Golden Panthers, BDN welcomes Andres Garcia, administrator for www.FIUGoldenPanthers.com.
BDN: After taking over an 0-12 team in 2007, Head Coach Mario Cristobal led Florida International to their first bowl game in 2010, a 34-32 win over Toledo in the Little Caesars Bowl. What are some of the reasons for his success in building the youngest program in the FBS into one of the top teams in the Sun Belt?
Coach Cristobal inherited a mess when he got to FIU, as you mention the team was coming off an 0-12 season which included that now infamous brawl with the University of Miami. In addition to that, the team had just been hit with NCAA violations which reduced the number of scholarships for future years. The main reason behind Coach Cristobal's success is his ability to recruit and sell a dream to local kids. One of the first to come on board was Anthony Gaitor (a 7th round NFL draft pick in last year's draft) and TY Hilton who chose FIU over an offer from West Virginia. FIU's recruiting rankings have improved steadily over Coach Cristobal's 4 years at the helm. In addition, the team for the first time is able to field a full complement of scholarship players which has led to an improvement in the depth that FIU fields. Often times in the early years, FIU would be able to hang on with teams for the first 2 quarters and then fade at the end due to lack of depth, this is no longer the case as was seen last year when FIU was able to compete against the likes of Rutgers, Maryland, Texas A&M and Pitt for an entire game.
BDN: Sun Belt Player of the Year TY Hilton may be the best college football player most fans have never heard of. Can you give us a quick scouting report on Hilton and describe his impact on the FIU program?
TY Hilton is quick, has great hands and is very elusive. He is Mr. Everything at FIU on offense and of course he's our most dangerous kick returner. As I mentioned before, TY opened the door for other quality South Florida recruits to at least consider coming to FIU. In addition, he is the face of the program and has been a fantastic ambassador in the community. His impact will be felt for a long time at FIU and we were very relieved that he chose to stay in school for his senior season.
BDN: Offensively, FIU returns 8 starters in 2011, including a deep group of players at quarterback and running back, along with the aforementioned Hilton at receiver. After outgaining Rutgers and Maryland and nearly upsetting Texas A&M in 2010, how good is this unit expected to be this season and what questions still need to be answered?
FIU loses 2 very important pieces to last year's offense in Brad Serini (starting Center) and Greg Ellingson (6'4” starting receiver) from last year's team, however, the coaches expect their replacements to be able to pick up some of that slack. One of FIU's question marks is the continued improvement of the OL. The Golden Panthers have 4 quality running backs which they rotate and which as a unit were very effective last year, while TY is a great weapon, it was the team's ability to run the ball which allowed Wesley Carroll to take advantage of TY. Speaking of Carroll his improvement is also a key cog in the development of the offense. He needs to cut down on his interceptions and improve his accuracy. FIU has plenty of weapons on offense, the questions are whether the OL can create the holes and give the QB the time to find and exploit those weapons.
BDN: The Golden Panthers will have a young, but experienced defense this fall. With only one projected senior starter, who is expected to step up and assume a leadership role? What are the key position battles heading into training camp?
Last year's defensive star was Anthony Gaitor who graduated and will hopefully move on to the NFL. This year, everyone is looking towards Jonathan Cyprien (DB) to take over the leadership role and explode on to the scene for the defense. Cyprien is joined as a Pre-Season all conference player by Tourek Williams (DL) and Winston Fraser (LB) so the Coaches feel they have established leaders for all 3 units in the defense. The big defensive battles will be along the DL and the CB positions. FIU returns several contributors from last year's team as well as a couple of new freshmen which could see some playing time. The LB corps is stacked with quick backers that can get to the ball in a second. This defense is built on South Florida speed.
BDN: With FIU in just its eighth year of FBS football, it's no surprise that this will be the first meeting between the Blue Devils and Golden Panthers. What will be the keys to the game for FIU to pull out a Homecoming victory on October 1st?
The key for FIU will be to control time of posession with its ground game and eliminate turnovers. This will limit the exposure of the talented but young FIU defense against the potent Blue Devil offense. On defense, FIU needs to contain the Duke passing game which is easier said than done. FIU needs to create pressure up front in order to force some turnovers and make sure to capitalize on those opportunities.
FIU fans are looking forward to this game possibly being our first win versus a team from an AQ conference. After coming so close last year, we are hoping the momentum continues and we cross that threshold.
In the midst of a scholarship crunch, the Duke coaching staff has secured 14 verbal commitments in the class of 2012, and may only have one or two remaining scholarships available. With four upperclassmen at running back in 2011, an elite running back remains Duke’s biggest need in the class of 2012. Specifically, the Duke staff is looking for a player who can come in and contribute early, and they believe they found exactly that type of athlete just down I-85 in Charlotte. After an impressive performance at Duke’s camp earlier this summer, Mallard Creek’s Jela Duncan remains at the top of the Blue Devils' list. [private]
Duncan is a 5'10" 190 pound prospect who posted a blazing 4.23 second 40-yard dash in Durham in June. In his first full season at running back, Duncan helped Mallard Creek to a 13-1 record, rushing for 1,375 yards on 101 carries with 17 touchdowns, despite missing three games. His junior year performance earned 1st Team I-Meck Conference and plenty of attention from college coaches and scouts, making him a consensus top-40 RB prospect nationally. To date, Duncan has picked up scholarship offers from Duke, ECU, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Wake Forest, and Western Michigan. The star tailback has been busy on the camp circuit this summer, and checked back in with BDN to update Duke fans on his recruitment.
BDN: Where do things stand with scholarship offers?
I still have the same offers from last time I talked to you, but South Carolina came into the picture. They said they should be offering me because I went down there to their showcase on Friday and performed really good. Coach Graham and Coach Spurrier really liked me.
BDN: So you were at South Carolina last weekend; have you been to any other camps recently, or do you have any planned?
Just South Carolina, that’s it right now. I’ve got an unofficial coming up on Friday to Carolina, North Carolina, so I can go up there and get evaluated.
BDN: Will that be your first visit to UNC?
Yeah, it’s going to be my first time visiting there, but I’ve driven through the campus and stuff.
BDN: Overall, what schools stand out to you at this point?
Duke is my leader for now.
BDN: Where would you say you stand with your recruitment – would you say you are hoping for more offers, or are you trying to narrow things down?
I’m going to try and stay up and earn some more offers during the season. I’ll probably narrow my offers down, I want to say probably towards the end of the season.
BDN: So is your plan to narrow things down towards the end of your season and then take your official visits?
BDN: Thanks a lot, Jela, and best of luck in your senior year.