DURHAM, N.C. – Coming out of high school in New York, Vincent Rey was listed as the 77th best linebacker in the nation by Scout.com. That ranking didn’t give the Far Rockaway native a lot of calls from top schools, but one that did offer Rey a scholarship was Duke University.
Three years later, Rey’s determination to be a top college linebacker is paying off for the Blue Devils.
“I definitely feel it made me a better player, it humbled me,” said Rey, who heads into his senior season as the only active ACC player with 100-plus tackles in the last two years. “I really thought I was better than how I was recruited. At the same time, it taught me that you are going to have to work — no matter who you are, how you got there, you are going to have to work to succeed and get better as a football player.
“There are lot of guys on this team that were highly recruited. Me, I wasn’t so highly recruited, but we are all here at the same place on the same team and we all have an equal opportunity to improve ourselves and become solid football players.”
Rey has worked hard to be the quality player that he is now. Intense work in the weight room and consistent study time in the film room have moved him into a true leadership role on this Duke football team.
“There actually is a feeling of pride,” he explained. “Duke offered me a scholarship late and I went to prep school for a year just to get to Duke, and I was more than willing to do that, but no one else had to do that. I went the extra mile and now I have turned out to be one of the leaders on the team and a respected guy on the team. It feels good, it feels worth it, everything that I have been through.”
“Investment,” said Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe. “When you invest as much time as he has into becoming a good football player, then it turns into a passion. Vinny Rey is probably our most passionate football player. He has learned to play football. As a coach, it is the most gratifying thing that you do to see people like Vinny Rey become great players.”
That lack of respect early in his career has been a mantel that Rey has carried throughout his career to make him continue to be a better player everyday.
“It’s easy to see because he has a great passion for the game,” explained linebackers coach Jim Collins, now in his 29th year as a collegiate football coach. “He takes great pride in everything that he does and he wants to be perfect. On top of that he has some physical skills that everyone may have missed on. He can run and is physically tough, and he has extremely long arms, which is an advantage for him. He is a smart football player.”
So smart that last year he was second on the team in tackles with 109 and returned two fumbles for touchdowns — a 37-yarder vs. Navy and a 26-yard return vs. North Carolina.
He is now being asked to move from his weakside linebacker spot to the middle linebacker spot vacated by last year’s leading tackler and All-ACC linebacker, Michael Tauiliili.
“The main thing I learned from Mike was mental toughness,” said Rey. “He was a very mentally tough football player. He was smart and he was real confident and more often than not he was right. He went with his initial feel, he worked real hard in the film room and he knew the game as well as he could know it to help give him an advantage in the game.
“I’ve had the opportunity to play a lot since I have been here and now when big-play situations come up, I feel I have the experience needed to make that big play.”
Last year when David Cutcliffe became the Blue Devils’ head coach and brought in an entirely new defensive staff, Rey could feel a difference.
“When the coaches first got here, we weren’t too sure about what they were asking us to do, like trimming down weight-wise, but we knew they had a proven record of winning,” he explained. “Now after this past season, especially defensively, we have seen ourselves make so many strides in different areas that we are confident and we are like, ‘Hey, if we can make those strides, why can’t we get better in other areas?’
“It’s like we have taken an extra step,” Rey continued. “Coach Cutcliffe gives us several basic quotes and statements to live our lives by as football players. The main one is nothing ever stays the same, you either get better or you get worse. The fact that we have continued to pick up and make significant progress in our running drills, that practice has picked up and moves along better than last year, we can feel that we are improving as a football team.”
As a linebacker, Rey knows that a great deal of the success of the defense is focused right on his position. Defensive linemen block and make sure the linebacker is clear to make the tackle.
“I never think the defensive line gets enough credit for what they do. They are the guys sacrificing their bodies on almost every play, taking on double teams, just for us to run around free and make tackles,” said Rey, who had 10.5 sacks last season.
“There is pressure as a linebacker, no matter which linebacker position you play. There is pressure because you are going to be called on to make most of the tackles and you are going to be in position to make most of the plays, whether run or pass. Even though there is pressure, we have a lot of help from the guys in front of us and behind us. The pressure goes away when you practice everyday and you work at getting better. You see it in the film room and the better you get at your technique, the less pressure you feel on yourself because you have the confidence to make the play.”
“I think pressure is part of it and you want to put the pressure on them so you will know who is going to react and who is going to be the playmaker,” explained Collins. “Following the last game of the 2008 season I told the linebackers that 140 tackles just left us from last season and it is time now to see who is going to step up and make those big plays and be the man. I think Vinny can be a big-time player.”
One of the team’s defensive mantras is “Knowledge equals confidence.” Rey knows all too well that work in the film room is just as important as in the weight room.
“The main idea of our defense is that we are a gap control defense,” said Rey. “We try to set a big fence, we try to have everyone in a gap and try to set up a fence where there is nowhere for the running back to run. That’s the basic idea. The knowledge you gain from watching film and knowing where a back may cut, combined with solid technique from practice and strength from working in the weight room — that will allow you to make the play.”
For the players and coaches, Rey is just fun to watch everyday in practice — true success story in a growing program.
“It’s actually a joy to wake up in the morning, even with practices in the morning,” Rey explained. “I may be tired or had a lot of work the night before, but it is a joy to wake up and run around and play football. To get out there in the mornings and work with the linebacker group I get to work with each day, sometimes the offensive linemen win and sometimes we win, but it is truly a great learning experience each and every day.”