By Alex Johnson
During Duke’s annual Spring Showcase at Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium last month, rising redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Robert Kraeling provided blocks that were strong and well placed, allowing him to prevent defensive linemen from getting around his outside shoulder and reach the quarterback.
Kraeling, with his overall athleticism and nuanced skill set, developed along the offensive line during the 2017 season in hopes of furthering his success this year.
Yet, for Kraeling, the goal to a successful season in the fall is about much more than just his own performance. After the showcase, he emphasized the efforts of the entire team and offensive line as being the key towards improvement.
“One of the things I love about football, selfishly, is my offensive line; the guys that I’m lining up next to, the guys who are doing everything I’m doing and putting in the blood and the sweat and the tears,” Kraeling said. “Having that sort of comradery is what brings me back every day.”
This sort of comradery is essential if the Blue Devils want to make it back to another bowl game. Coming off of a victory over Northern Illinois in the Quick Lane Bowl could add pressure, which Kraeling acknowledges but is prepared to rise to the challenge that another season brings both physically and mentally. To do this, he has spent extra time watching film and studying the playbook outside of the regular hours spent running drills with the team.
Kraeling does not take credit for all the work he has been putting in outside of practice. During an interview after the event, he noted at least three positive things about others for every one positive element he said about himself. That is the type of role that Kraeling plays on the team – leading by example with his heart and drive, never failing to lift others up or recognize the work they contribute. Saying with a smile that he would “fall into battle with” with his offensive line, it is evident Kraeling has a lot of faith in his teammates-turned-family.
With the departure of three starters from the 2017 season, the leadership of the offensive line shifts to the likes of seniors Christian Harris and Zach Harmon. Despite the change, the Blue Devils are focusing on their mentality. The team understands the importance of moving forward and focusing on each game, one at a time.
“When we come out here we try to bring 100 percent every day because that’s how we know we’re going to get better,” said Kraeling, who recognizes for every hour of practice his team is putting in, his opponents are putting in just as much.
Head coach David Cutcliffe views the positive, forward minded mentality that Kraeling and the team has as pivotal to the success of the team in the fall.
“They’re going to keep bringing it,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s how championships are won. That’s how games are won.”
While keeping a positive mental attitude can be difficult in any sport, football has consistently provided Kraeling with some of his role models and best friends. Since middle school, he has always found a home on the football team; it is one of the things that drew him to football in the first place.
Finding his way at a new middle school after transferring was difficult, and he struggled to find friends and a place where he felt like he fit in. However, the football coach at his middle school, Jeremy Hass, soon took notice of him and taught him the value of hard work. He provided Kraeling with the opportunity to be a part of a team that would become more like a family and a place where Kraeling finally felt like he belonged.
“He taught me when times get rough, you keep going, you just have keep on going,” Kraeling said.
While Hass passed away last year from cancer, he remains a source of inspiration for Kraeling and a reason to push forward when he encounters obstacles.
This work ethic is something that Kraeling certainly has not forgotten, having played all 13 games last fall. His work this spring during the practice period also paid off with Kraeling receiving one of the most improved player awards for the offense at the Spring Showcase.
During the Spring Showcase Cutcliffe said, “If I had to pick one thing about being a Blue Devil, it would be about heart.”
Kraeling brings a lot of things to Duke’s football team: athleticism, leadership, a strong work ethic and certainly a whole lot of heart.