Devils’ awakening: After years of atrocity, Duke enters 2013 searching for 2nd straight bowl appearance

first_imgIn the time it took for the Duke football program to win another game, its basketball program won 64 games and a national championship.Twenty-three straight losses spanning 1999-2002. Back-to-back 0-11 seasons in 2000 and 2001. 0-12 in 2006.If any notable college football program finished a season with this mark even once, it would be shouted from the rooftops. Yet Duke, in the shadow of one of the best basketball programs in NCAA history, went unnoticed.“That was frustrating, but we just kept at it every week,” said Justin Boyle, a running back on the 2006 team.But things are starting to look up. AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe Blue Devils are fresh off their best season since 1994-95, winning six games last season before nearly upsetting Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl — Duke’s first postseason appearance since 1995. Jon Gardiner | Duke PhotographyThis year, Duke entered training camp with renewed energy, a new quarterback and a goal to make program history. “We want to be the first team in program history to go to bowls in back-to-back seasons,” senior cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “This is the most energetic camp I’ve ever been a part of, and it’s because we want something.”But that’s not to say past Blue Devils teams weren’t playing hard.Duke’s 2006-07 record doesn’t tell the team’s entire story. The Blue Devils did finish 0-12, but competed to the tail end of some contests and were left with nothing to show for it. They lost to Wake Forest 14-13, Miami 20-15 and North Carolina 45-44. Boyle, a junior at the time, recalls a positive locker room, despite his team’s inability to edge another. “We always knew we had the ability,” Boyle said. “If you look back at that season, we were just a few plays away a lot of the time.”Boyle has tracked Duke since he graduated in 2008. Last season, he attended four games and watched a once depleted program grow before his eyes. When the Blue Devils earned a trip to the Belk Bowl, he, along with a number of his former teammates, planned to attend. More than 30 players from Duke’s darkest years filed into the first few rows of the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. Cincinnati would beat the Blue Devils 48-34, but a small crowd of alumni cheered from start to finish.If anything, they were on hand to watch their successors try to achieve something they never could. Duke’s six wins were more than the four Boyle had won in his entire Blue Devils career.“I don’t know if they could hear us on the sideline, but we were loud, like the Cameron Crazies at Duke basketball games,” Boyle said. “I’m already so proud of those guys after last season, and it would mean a lot to me and my teammates if they keep it moving.”In the last five seasons, Duke has averaged 4.2 wins per year. In the previous 12, they went 19-117 — an average of just 1.58 wins per year.Now the team is hungry to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke, hungry to have another program breathe alongside basketball and lacrosse in Durham, N.C. and hungry to further bury decades of futility with one more noteworthy campaign. That has been head coach David Cutcliffe’s rhetoric throughout training camp. “He keeps telling us over and over that this is the year that we can make the program good again,” Cockrell said. “Last year was great, but now our eyes are looking straight ahead.” Searching for continued success heading into the season, Duke does have its obstacles. At the top of the list is the departure of quarterback Sean Renfree. A three-year starter for the Blue Devils, Renfree was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The first player to be drafted out of Duke since 2004, Renfree threw for 3,113 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior, becoming the first quarterback in program history to throw for 2,500 or more yards in three straight seasons. Replacing him is Anthony Boone, a redshirt junior from Weddington, N.C., who has been itching for this opportunity for three seasons. “I’ve learned a lot from Sean over the years, and it means I’m ready,” Boone said. “I’m not nervous and I don’t think anybody should be about me taking over. The offense won’t miss a beat.”Against Wake Forest last season, Boone gave Duke a glimpse into its future. After Renfree left with an elbow injury late in the third quarter, Boone took over and led the Blue Devils to a pivotal win. With 11:35 remaining, he scampered into the end zone and became the fifth quarterback in school history to score a game-winning touchdown on the ground. The next week, Boone quarterbacked the Blue Devils to a 42-17 win over Virginia in his first career start when Renfree was sidelined again. Jon Gardiner | Duke Photography“Those two wins last year, they were team wins,” Boone said. “Everything is about the team, we don’t do anything individually, on both sides of the ball.”With Boone behind center, Duke’s offensive attack gains an edge this year. Always a threat to run, he said the team will be moving faster and running a lot more read options and designed scrambles for him.Add that to a defense Cockrell calls “the team’s strength,” as well as a confident urgency the program lacked in years past, and Duke is certainly ready to compete in 2013. “If we get to the (Atlantic Coast Conference) championship, we’ll have achieved a lot of what we wanted to,” Cockrell said. “We’re shooting for it all and think we can get there.” Commentslast_img

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