Not just because of the nine wins or the record-setting performances. This is a team that may be the absolute definition of the word TEAM.
Down 14-0 to Wake Forest on Saturday the thoughts of fans and media may well have slipped into “well they’ve had a great season, you knew it would catch up with them at some time.”
But not this team, not this group of players – they play together and fight together as well as any team that has ever worn a Duke uniform – in any sport.
By halftime they had the game tied at 14 and by the end of the third quarter they had a 28-21 lead.
The truly believe in each other. They are not a team made up of a bunch of future NFL draft picks. A few of the guys, with the guts and skill they possess, may make it to play on Sunday one day, but for the most part this team is made up of solid football players that have become good because they believe in each other and have fun playing football with each other.
“The heart and strength of the team comes from the heart of the family within us,” explained senior defensive back Ross Cockrell. “It comes from our heart; we are a family and we lean and depend on one another. We have no leader; everyone has to take responsibility and play their role.”
Down 14-0 in the first quarter, the Blue Devils looked flat and looked like a team that could be beat.
“We’ve been in that situation before, down 22 at Virginia so we knew what we had to do to come back,” explained Brandon Connette. “We’re old enough and a mature enough team to know what we would have to do to fight back and win this game.”
“We are a 3 ½ hour team,” added Anthony Boone. “We put more steam in the second half. No matter what happens in the first half we come out ready to play in the second half.”
The Blue Devils are an incredible second half team – especially in the fourth quarter. They have scored 110 points in the final quarter of the game compared to just 34 by their opponents. Saturday against Wake Forest was another key fourth quarter as the Blue Devils shut out the Deacons.
This team is on a mission to prove they belong in the world of relevant college football programs.
They are out to show everyone that last year wasn’t just a one-hit wonder.
This all began back in January with the very first meeting of the Duke football team as they arrived back on campus from Christmas break.
“We relaxed last year after winning six games and getting bowl eligible,” said Boone. “We decided in that first meeting that we weren’t going to let that happen again.”
The Blue Devils captured their bowl-eligible sixth win last year, 33-30, over North Carolina. Following that victory they proceeded to lose their next five consecutive games including a defeat to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl.
“That wasn’t going to happen again,” said Boone. “We were going to keep winning even after we won our sixth game this year, we weren’t letting up.”
And they have, after capturing their sixth win for bowl eligibility back on October 26th against Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils have continued to win with victories over N.C. State, Miami and Wake Forest and head into their game with North Carolina this week with an opportunity to play for the ACC Championship.
When David Cutcliffe arrived at Duke he stated that he wanted to have this team competing for championships. Most observers thought he was crazy – championships – let’s just win a few games and get to basketball season, they are the ones that win the championships.
Not anymore. Cutcliffe has taken a page out of the Krzyzewski motivational manual and has this team believing in themselves, going after each play harder than the previous and forgetting plays in the past, moving on to the next play.
He has them believing in championships, but it takes each and every member of this team to make that happen.
Against Wake Forest the Blue Devils threw touchdown passes with one quarterback and ran for TD’s with another, they committed just one questionable turnover, defensively they forced the Deacons into two turnovers, held them to just 248 yards in total offense and made four sacks in key moments of the game.
“It took every part of this football team to play well at different times in order for us to win this game,” said Cutcliffe, outside the Duke dressing room at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem. “It was one of those complete and through victories and it took every one of us.”
Now it’s time for the Duke-Carolina game - a fitting regular-season ending game for this team.
We all know the stat about Duke never playing in back-to-back bowl games. That record is now ancient history as the Devils prepare for another bowl trip this season. It’s also the first time Duke has won nine games since 1941 and there are other numerous record-breaking performances this season.
The record that now must be broken is the fact the Blue Devils haven’t beaten Carolina in back-to-back seasons since the 1987-88-89 campaigns, when Steve Spurrier’s Blue Devils came away with three consecutive victories, two of them over Mack Brown’s Tar Heels.
It’s time for this Duke TEAM to put that record on the back burner as well.
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.