DURHAM, N.C. — Duke's Jamison Crowder is preparing for everybody's best shot this season.
The junior receiver figures to be the focus of every opponent's scouting report because he's the Blue Devils' leading returning receiver and top playmaker.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Crowder said the goal is to continue to make big plays despite that increased attention.
Crowder ranked fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season with 6.3 catches per game and tied teammate Conner Vernon for third in the ACC with an average of 82.6 yards receiving.
With Vernon off to the NFL, Crowder figures to be the Blue Devils' primary offensive weapon as they try to build off of last year's surprising success — highlighted by the school's first bowl game since the 1994 season.
The achievement of finally making it to the postseason has raised the confidence level of the once-sagging program to a level that it believes it can lose one of the ACC's most decorated receivers and one of Duke's top quarterbacks yet not take a step back.
"The mentality is, we already know we're going to go back to another bowl," Crowder said. "We just want to improve on that, go to a bigger bowl. We know we're going to win games because we just have that confidence level now, and we're just getting better every day in the weight room and on the practice field."
Crowder says it's up to him as a leader to instill that belief in the younger players who follow his example.
That's why one of his top priorities this offseason has been developing his leadership skills and taking a more vocal role with the team. He doesn't see himself as a cheerleader, but rather as someone who won't be afraid to speak up and give advice to teammates.
"It's a challenge a little bit, because I'm still learning, but I've got to help the younger guys coming up, because I've got the most experience," he said.
He's definitely the team's top proven playmaker.
Gone is Vernon, who set six ACC receiving records during his four-year career and is now with the Oakland Raiders. And quarterback Sean Renfree, the first Duke player drafted since 2004, went in the seventh round to the Atlanta Falcons.
Crowder figures to be new starter Anthony Boone's top option in the pass game, and doesn't see his role changing much even though the Blue Devils are incorporating some elements of the zone-read offense to take advantage of Boone's mobility.
Boone is known as a runner but Crowder says he is capable of throwing it, too.
"Sometimes he's a little wild ... and I just have to tell him, 'Shut it down, Boone.'" Crowder said with a laugh. "But for the most part though, he's pretty accurate and he's got a nice little zip on his balls. You've got to be ready to catch them because they'll hit you in your face or break your nose."
The Blue Devils hope Boone and Crowder can team to make big plays just like Renfree and Crowder did — and one from last season stands above all others.
Crowder's head-over-heels catch on a fourth down with 13 seconds left helped the Blue Devils defeat North Carolina 33-30 for its sixth win of the season. His first college game-winner made Duke bowl eligible for the first time in nearly two decades.
"I go back and look at it every once in a while, just to get a smile on my face," Crowder said.
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