It’s amazing this year how there seems to be a different star each and every game. Each week someone steps up and helps lead this team to another win.
Enter a redshirt freshman from Covington, Ga. by the name of DeVon Edwards. Not one of those three- or four-star recruits that all the recruiting gurus believe you must get to be win college football games. In fact, Duke was the only FBS school to offer him a scholarship. He’s just a very good athlete, who knows how to play the game of football.
A quiet young man, who head coach David Cutcliffe says has never said a word to the team, and has moved from a reserve cornerback to a starting role at safety this season.
Late in the third quarter, following a Wolfpack touchdown, which gave the visitors their first lead of the day, Edwards began his legendary day as he took the ball at the goal line in the north end of Wallace Wade Stadium, heading for the middle of the field, hit the gap, cut right and was off-to-the-races, 100 yards for a touchdown and the Blue Devils were back in the lead, 17-13.
“On film, the coaches were telling us there’s a seam up the middle; there’s a seam up the middle all week,” explained Edwards, who has returned 10 kickoffs this year for an average of 32.7 yards per return. “The first couple of kickoffs it closed up pretty fast, so I just trusted [my] instincts and went for the middle before I even reacted and it just busted wide open. I knew when I broke, I wasn’t going to let anyone catch me because I had already been tackled by the kicker one time.”
Again after N.C. State scored to take the lead, the Blue Devils drove down the field and scored on a great keeper by QB Brandon Connette, his 25th career rushing touchdown. Ten seconds later, the game would break open with a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown on a tipped ball. In the course of the game, it was almost poetic justice that Edwards would get the interception.
You see, just three minutes earlier, N.C. State completed an 80-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Mitchell to Quintin Payton with Edwards on the deep coverage. He knew he had to make something happen on the defensive end of the field.
“On that tipped interception, it was right after we had a little busted play the play before on defense,” explained Edwards. “I knew the defensive backs had to do something spectacular to get everybody back into it. So I just trusted my instincts. I saw him come into the flat and I was supposed to have the flat. But when the quarterback was running, I saw him looking to pass. So I just stopped. When he tried to throw the ball, I knew I could get it. He probably thought I was too short or something, but I know my athletic ability so I just jumped up and got it. I knew I had to score because the game was kind of slow at that point.”
“I told him this during the game,” said Cutcliffe. “I said ‘DeVon, I believed in you and I know who you are.’ He’s not very big. He was a great scorer in high school in basketball. But I went and watched him practice basketball and he caught every rebound that came off the board. He was the leading rebounder on his team in a very good league in the state of Georgia in basketball and was the leading rebounder in his district. Does that tell you something about a guy who’s about 5-8?”
Sixteen seconds later Edwards found himself in the right place at the right time as a Pete Thomas pass sailed nowhere near anyone in a N.C. State uniform and number 27 in the Duke black uniform was off and running, cutting back and forth, finding his way 45 yards into the end zone.
“I was just staying back, reading,” he explained. “Our line put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, so I think he just tried to get rid of it and guess to where his receiver was supposed to be. I was just sitting, reading his eyes and when he just threw it up, I was the only one around so that was his loss.”
Cutcliffe has preached to this team to remember how they got to this point of the season and who they are as individual players.
“I think the most important part of it is to remember who you are and why you’re better,” said Cutcliffe. “We’re not better because we strut or because we’re so physically gifted that we’re going to dominate anyone. We are who we are because of the process. A process we believe deeply in. A process that’s been a part of what I’ve learned over a lot of years. And these guys buy into the process. They are the process. We better remember that. If we ever forget that we have no chance to be successful here. I’m very proud of their humility and I’m proud of their work ethic because I want them to take that work ethic that their learning here and apply it to the rest of their lives. Because that’s the most important thing they’re going to learn here. Not a route, not a coverage, not a block, not how to defend anyone. It’s going to be how to work and how to work every day consistently. Because that’s who we are and that’s the only chance we have to win and we better keep believing that."
“Duke football is something that’s unique and special, and we have to remember what got us here,” commented senior guard Dave Harding when ask about where this team was at this point in the season. “It’s hard work. It’s doing things the right way even when the right way may not be the mainstream thing to do. Coach Cut’s done a great job of reminding us of that. The only thing that got us here is sweat in the off-season and just working hard every day in practice. This team I think is committed to that process and we’re starting to see some of the results of that.”
The results come in the fact that Duke has an opportunity this weekend to turn a very special season into an incredible season as they face nationally-ranked Miami at home with the ACC Championship game in Charlotte the first weekend of December still on their radar screen. The Blue Devils need a little help from Clemson on Thursday night as they take on Georgia Tech. A Yellow Jacket loss would put the Duke in position to continue to play for a Coastal Division title.
“Going into this year, this team definitely believed that we were going to be competitive and make a push for the ACC Championship,” said Cutcliffe. “I don’t think anybody is really surprised by that. If you went and polled people down in the locker room, people would tell you we expected to be relevant, and so this was the first big step. We have to continue just winning games and we’re excited with the challenge we have with Miami on senior day.”
Remember if you have any questions or comments about this column to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for taking the time to read these ramblings and have a safe and wonderful week.