DURHAM, N.C. -- When quarterback Brandon Connette came to Duke, one thing was clear: he could run. In 2012, Duke fans will see a whole lot more of what he can do with the football in his hands, and not just at the quarterback position.
Connette, now a redshirt sophomore, came to Duke as a dual-threat quarterback and played immediately as a freshman. While Sean Renfree was the clear-cut starter during Connette's freshman season - and still is as a redshirt senior in 2012 - Connette's running ability was so impressive that head coach David Cutcliffe and his staff made it a point to get him on the field.
Used primarily in red zone and short-yardage situations, Connette's first career run at Duke went for 48 yards. He didn't find the end zone on that play, but he would later that season when he scored eight times to break a 10-year-old Duke record for the most rushing touchdowns by a freshman. Connette averaged an impressive 4.12 yards per rush on 78 attempts that season and finished second on the team with 321 rushing yards.
Connette was set up for the same role as a sophomore in 2011 and scored a touchdown in the season opener against Richmond. In his next game against Stanford, he flashed his abilities in the passing game with a 35-yard completion to Conner Vernon. Connette would rush six times in that game, but it took just one play for his season to end prematurely. In the fourth quarter with less than 12 minutes remaining, Connette took back-to-back sacks and dislocated his right shoulder. The injury was severe enough that he didn't play a single game the rest of the year and took a medical redshirt.
Now back on the field and completely healthy, Connette is in line to be a key piece of the Duke offense once again. It won't be primarily under center, however, as Duke fans saw him in his first two seasons. Connette is still listed as a quarterback on the roster and receives reps at the position in practice but has also lined up at tight end, running back, H-back and wide receiver during the spring and in training camp. At 6-2, 225 pounds, Connette is one of Duke's best athletes, and the coaching staff's plan is to put him in as many positions as possible to be successful.
"What we experimented with in the spring was moving me around to different positions - quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, some fullback, a little of everything," Connette said. "We're just building on that right now in the fall, seeing what works best with the offense."
Connette was named the Most Valuable Player of Duke's spring Blue-White game in March after completing 4-of-7 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown and rushing six times for 54 more yards and another score. His touchdown run was a 30-yard scamper for the Blue squad's first score, and his passing touchdown to Jamison Crowder covered 36 yards.
"I'm a competitor, so I like to be on the field and help the team in any way I can," Connette said. "It' s a way for me to get on the field a little bit more, so for me it's exciting to be on the field a little bit more and have a bigger impact on the game."
Connette has embraced the transition and is enjoying his new role. For somebody who played quarterback for most of his career, learning at least three new positions has been easier than expected.
"It's actually been easy for me," he said. "Quarterbacks know what everyone's doing on every play, what they should be thinking, how far they should push the route and stuff. For me, the biggest thing wasn't learning the playbook because I already know what I'm supposed to do on every play. The biggest thing is actually acting on that and learning exactly how to move my body in those situations, how to push a route to six yards instead of just knowing that you have to do that, how to break out of routes and things like that."
Though still learning the nuances of each position, Connette has his teammates to rely on. Because the coaching staff began experimenting with his new role in the spring, Connette has had the entire spring and summer to work on improving in his newfound role.
"This summer I worked with Sean [Renfree] a lot at receiver," he said. "He's been helping me a lot with route running; I think that's the biggest thing you have to work on as a receiver. It's a big difference from just running routes on air to running routes against defense because someone's actually covering you and you have to get separation. That and just learning how to catch the ball in traffic with people all around you and hands flying everywhere."
Connette has nine touchdowns in 14 career games despite averaging just over 11 plays per game. If the Blue Devils follow through on their plan to get him more involved in the offense, Connette may be spending a lot more time in the end zone every Saturday.