DURHAM -- Duke is back at
practice this week, preparing for the Dec. 27 Belk Bowl in Charlotte.
"It's been fun,"
junior defensive end Justin Foxx said Tuesday. "It's a chance to have football
without school, so you have more time to focus on football ... but some free time
as well. It's been a pretty good experience to hang out with teammates and get
This is a new
experience for the Blue Devil players. None have ever played in a bowl game or
gone through pre-bowl practice before.
"This is a great
opportunity for us," junior cornerback Ross Cockrell said. "It's great to be
there, but we're there for a reason and that's to win the game."
mentioned the difference a victory would make.
"7-6 sounds a
lot better than 6-7," Cockrell said. "It would give us a lot of momentum going
into next season."
"It's a chance
to go down in history," senior wide receiver Desmond Scott said. "The coaches
want us to go down there and have fun, but in the minds of the athletes, it's
about business. To be able to go down in the storybooks as the team that went
down and won, can't be explained."
While Duke has
never played in Bank of America Stadium, Scott has.
"I played there
as an eight-year-old during halftime of a Panthers game," the Durham native
said. "It was loud and very big. The field seemed huge. I can't wait to get
back there and enjoy this with my teammates."
dreamed of playing in my hometown stadium," Foxx said. "I was pleased with
Charlotte being our destination. I'm going to need a lot of tickets, but I
don't think I'll get them all. I could use 20 or 30 [tickets]. I'm probably
only going to get 10 or 12 - maybe."
Players get up
to six tickets for family and fields. But sometimes players from far away trade
their tickets to those like Foxx who are playing closer to home.
exciting to play in front of a home crowd," he said. "A lot of people who have
watched me since middle school are excited to see me come back and play in
college. I have some uncles and cousins coming down. It should be fun.
Duke coach David
Cutcliffe is excited about playing in Charlotte because it's such prime
recruiting territory for the Blue Devils.
"I love that
we're able to play close to home for our fans," he said. "I love it for
recruiting. I've been in and out of Charlotte a lot in the last two weeks and
we've been talked about a lot. And, remember, that Charlotte metro area bleeds
into northern South Carolina."
The bowl itself
is during a dead period for recruiting, so Cutcliffe won't be able to host
prospects at his practices or during the game itself.
The bowl trip
includes a number of perks for the players, including a trip to the Charlotte
Motor Speedway and a team shopping spree at Belk in Charlotte.
The bowl touts
the team shopping spree as a chance for the players to pick their own bowl
gifts - rather than settle for the standard bowl gift.
But one Blue
Devil has different plans for the shopping spree.
"I'm ready for
that," Desmond Scott said. "I'm not shopping for myself or anyone in my family.
I know a few people who are working hard in life and deserve to have a good
Christmas. That's what I'm trying to do. I don't need anything. My family
doesn't need anything. So I'm going to give back to those who deserve it and need
it much more than I do."
several players have asked about using their spending spree to help others. He
said he's not surprised by Scott's generosity.
"Desmond does a
lot of community service," he said. "He does a lot with children. He plans on
going into education. I'm sure he'll be a very successful teacher or
to make sure his players understand the significance of their upcoming bowl
game with Cincinnati.
"I want them to
feel a sense of history," the Duke coach said. "Because the history does
indicate tough times in recent times, but it also represents the best of the
point is illustrated by Duke's bowl history. The Blue Devils have a 3-5 bowl
record, but haven't won a bowl since the 1961 Cotton Bowl. In fact, Duke has
been in just three bowls in the last 50 years - the 1989 All-American Bowl; the
1995 Hall of Fame Bowl and the 2012 Belk Bowl.
It has been
tough recently, but in its heyday, Duke won bowl games over Alabama (the 1945
Sugar Bowl), Nebraska (the 1955 Orange Bowl) and Arkansas (the 1961 Cotton
Bowl). Duke also played twice in the Rose Bowl, losing a last-second
heartbreaker to Southern Cal in 1939 and hosting the 1942 Rose Bowl in what is
now Wallace Wade Stadium.
"I think this is
a generation you have to educate about those things," Cutcliffe said. "The way
we approach it, it becomes important to them."
USING THE BOWL
Duke will have
14 days of practice - practice time that non-bowl teams don't get.
the time as almost an extra spring practice.
The first order
of business is to prepare for Cincinnati, but along with that chore, the Duke
coaches can use the time to work with young players and to tweak the current
Cutcliffe announced several position changes this week. That includes moving
sophomore Nick Sink, who started seven games this season at defensive tackle,
to tight end. He's also moving freshman Shaquille Powell from running back to
safety and freshman Nick Hill from wide receiver to safety. Linebacker Britton
Grier is moving to defensive end.
that a couple of the moves are merely experimental - such as Powell to safety -
but that the Sink to tight end switch is permanent.
"We have some
real athletic guys at tight end, but I like to have a guy who is 6-5, 285
pounds with great hands," Cutcliffe said.
The Duke coach
said he was also using the extra bowl practice to give some of his redshirt
players work with the regulars. He said he's rotated such players as
quarterback Thomas Sirk, offensive linemen Tanner Stone and Casey Blaser and
defenders such as Keilin Rayner and A.J. Wolf into the practice rotation. None
will play in the bowl game, but the extra work will give them a head start on
spring practice when they'll be competing for starting jobs.
"We have 14
extra practices and a game," Cutcliffe said. "That's the equivalent to a spring
practice. Teams that are in bowls every year ... Just add that up for a player
at a school like Virginia Tech that goes to a bowl every year. By the time he's
a senior, he's had about 45 more practices than a player on a team that doesn't
go to a bowl.
"That's how big
a deal it is."
practice is a new experience for every current Blue Devil player, it's not for Cutcliffe.
He participated in 17 bowl games as an assistant at Tennessee and compiled a
4-1 bowl record as head coach at Ole Miss.
But he cited his
first bowl experience at Ole Miss, where he took over the program in late
November and prepared the team for an Independence Bowl meeting with Texas
Tech, as his most significant experience.
"I didn't know
the players' names," he said. "I told them to put tape on the helmet and I
called them by whatever names were on the helmet. If the equipment people were
playing a joke on me, then I was calling them by wrong name.
"We went out and
played great. I learned more about bowl preparation from that game."
shared his bowl wisdom with this Duke team.
"We've talked a
lot about how to approach bowl games - the fundamentals that are involved in
wining bowl games ... not only mentally, but emotionally and physically," he
said. "Every aspect of it is different.
"We don't go out
there very long. When you get into bowl practice, the worst thing you can do is
practice to be practicing and practicing a mistake. I can't stand practicing at
a speed that's a mistake. I watch people do throw and catch drills and they do
it at a speed that is not near game speed - well, you're practicing a mistake.
That's the biggest danger you have in bowl practice.
shorten practice and we'll increase intensity."
THE OLE MISS
While Duke and
Cincinnati have never met in football before, the Belk Bowl is at the center of
an odd collection of coaching coincidences.
take that 1998 Independence Bowl that Cutcliffe was talking about. He took over
that Ole Miss team when Tommy Tuberville, the coach in Oxford that season, left
to take the Auburn job. Now Tuberville is the new head coach at Cincinnati -
after leaving Texas Tech, the school Cutcliffe beat in that '98 bowl game.
inheriting a Cincinnati team that was coached all season by Butch Jones, who
left earlier this month to take the head job at Tennessee, where Cutcliffe
worked most of his professional life.
"Is it the
Twilight Zone?" Cutcliffe asked when the coincidences were pointed out to him.
THE RECORD BOOK
The last time
Duke was in a bowl game, bowl stats didn't count toward season or career
totals. That changed in 2003, when the NCAA decided that bowl games would be
treated as an extension of the season statistically.
several Duke players have a chance to use the bowl game to reach significant
-- Conner Vernon, who is already the Duke and ACC career receiving leader, needs 45 more
receiving yards to reach 1,000 yards for the season. With Jamison Crowder
already at 1,030 yards, it would give Duke two 1,000-yard receivers in the
season for the first time.
-- With 270
passing yards, quarterback Sean Renfree can pass UNC's T.J. Yates as the No. 8
career passer in ACC history. With 245 passing yards, he can top 3,000 yards in
a season for the second time - joining Ben Bennett as the only Duke players to
reach that milestone twice.
-- Jela Duncan
already ranks as the seventh most effective freshman rusher in Duke history. He
could finish as high as high as second with 83 rushing yards in the bowl game.
placekicker Ross Martin already ranks second in Duke history for field goals in
a season with 18. With three more field goals in the bowl, he could tie the
Duke school record of 21, set by Will Snyderwine in 2010. With six total
points, Martin can tie the school record of points in a season - a record Clarkston
Hines holds with 104.
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