DURHAM, N.C. -- DeVon Edwards entered his final season with a long list of accomplishments and accolades already to his name. Despite suffering a season-ending knee injury just four games into the 2016 campaign, he left an indelible mark on a Duke football program that made major strides over the course of his career — leading to his selection as the athletics department’s male senior student-athlete of the year for 2016-17.
A three-time All-America and All-ACC selection, Edwards graduated atop Duke’s career charts in kickoff return average and kickoff returns for touchdowns. He shares the ACC and NCAA record for the longest kickoff return after running back a pair of 100-yard returns against N.C. State in 2013 and Georgia Tech in 2015.
The Covington, Ga., native wrapped up his collegiate career with 327 tackles, 10.5 quarterback sacks and five interceptions in 44 games played. His six kickoff returns for touchdowns are just one score shy of the ACC and NCAA records.
After guiding the Blue Devils to three consecutive bowl games, including a 44-41 overtime victory against Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl in 2015, Edwards was poised for a senior year that many hoped would cement his Duke legacy and bolster his NFL Draft potential. However, the senior captain went down with a torn left anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments Sept. 24 at Notre Dame, throwing his future football aspirations into question.
“My senior year did not play out how I’d ever imagined,” Edwards said in his senior speech at the team’s end-of-the-year banquet. “I went from never missing a game to missing three-fourths of the entire season. Although I kept smiling, I was hurt, and most nights defeated. I couldn’t even watch football.
“With the great support of my friends, family, coaches and teammates, I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and once again overcome this obstacle in my life. My knee injury was a blessing. Rather than looking at the negative, I focused on the positive lessons I’ve learned.”
While recovering from his injury, Edwards maintained that same positive attitude. And though he could only watch from the sidelines, he continued to make an impact off the field. A psychology major as an undergraduate, Edwards went on to complete a master’s degree in liberal studies. He earned his fourth consecutive All-ACC Academic Team selection and was recognized as a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete and Campbell Trophy finalist. His contributions in the community were also honored as he was named to the 2016 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
“Within this timeframe I’ve matured and developed physically and mentally, and learned that your college career is an unknown journey,” Edwards said. “I say unknown because many people do not know what they will be doing and where they will be doing it in the next four to five years. The unknown journey is something that young student-athletes should not be afraid of. I’ve learned to enjoy the process, savor the moments and make the most out of the opportunities.”
Although Edwards was limited physically on Duke’s Pro Day back in March, both he and head coach David Cutcliffe remain optimistic that he will get his shot at the NFL, even if it takes longer than originally planned.
“I’m making a lot of progress,” Edwards says. “I need to get back to where I was or even better to play at the next level … The hunger and the fire built inside of me to come back stronger pushes me to maximize every opportunity I will have to one day play again.”
An unranked national prospect in high school, Christina Gibbons hardly could have imagined the path she’d take to becoming one of the top players in Duke women’s soccer history.
After spending her prep career watching teammates and peers get selected for U.S. junior national teams and camps, Gibbons — a Raleigh native — found a home at Duke, where she flourished under the guidance of head coach Robbie Church and his staff. She graduated from the program with 10 goals and 19 assists in 88 career contests, racking up the third-most minutes played, and was just the fourth Blue Devil to receive first team All-ACC accolades on three occasions.
An illustrious career also saw Gibbons, a two-time team captain, lead Duke to a pair of NCAA Tournament quarterfinals trips, as well as an incredible run to the College Cup title match in 2015. She was selected Duke’s female senior student-athlete of the year for 2016-17.
“She has brought nothing but excellence for Duke University the last four years on the field, in the classroom and in the community,” Church said after Gibbons was named the winner of a 2016 Senior CLASS Award in December. “Christina will leave a lasting impression on our program in so many different areas, and we will miss her a great deal.”
Gibbons fulfilled a number of roles for the Duke squad over the years while garnering the respect of her teammates for her work ethic and leadership capabilities. She moved from the back line up to midfield as a senior following an injury to standout teammate Rebecca Quinn and led the Blue Devils with a team-high eight assists. Despite the move to midfield, she was still tabbed the ACC defensive player of the year at the season’s close.
“She is the heart and soul of this team,” said high school and Duke teammate Morgan Reid. “She is a motivator. She is the hardest fighter, the most aggressive, competitive player on our team. As a team, we feed off of her and much of our success has come from her intensity. I trust her more than anyone. I’ve had the honor of playing with her for a long time now, almost 15 years, and she is one of the hardest workers that I’ve ever seen. I respect her so much.”
A visual media studies major and a CoSIDA Academic All-America and ACC Postgraduate Scholarship recipient as a senior, Gibbons graduated from Duke in December. But the 2016 Hermann Trophy semifinalist and first team All-America wasn’t done racking up national recognition. In January, Gibbons became the highest drafted player in program history when she was taken fifth overall by FC Kansas City in the 2017 NWSL College Draft. Fellow Blue Devil Toni Payne was also selected by FC Kansas City in the second round.
“At that point, it’s surreal,” Gibbons told the Duke Chronicle following the draft. “I’m extremely humbled and to go fifth is something that, if you were to have told me that my freshman year of college, I probably would have laughed.”
Gibbons’ future in the sport is no laughing matter. The same month as the NWSL Draft, she was invited to a training camp with the U.S. women’s national team. In late February, the Blue Devil graduate traveled to Spain with the U.S. U23 squad, and early June brought Gibbons back to familiar territory as FC Kansas City played the North Carolina Courage at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.
“I’m extremely humbled to be standing here today,” Gibbons told the crowd at the draft. “I am super excited to start my journey and I hope to make the entire city and all the fans extremely proud ... I would like to thank my coaches, teammates and everyone at Duke University who supported me, as well as my family. I would not be up here today without any of them.”