As its on-field performance has improved, so has Duke's recruiting efforts. But what will it take to keep the Blue Devils rising?
When Tyler Petite was planning recruiting visits earlier this year, Duke was barely on his radar. A heralded tight end from Moraga, Calif., Petite considered not visiting the school’s Durham, N.C., campus until a conversation with his dad changed his mind.
“I was like, ‘You know what? I don’t really think I need to go visit Duke.' But my dad said, ‘You know what? One visit out there, it’s not going to take that much time. We’ll be able to go out there and see everything.’”
Petite is one of 18 prospects committed to Duke’s 2015 recruiting class, which is ranked 27th in the country, according to the 247 Sports composite ratings incorporating data from several major recruiting services. Dating to Signing Day 2008, the first after the hiring of coach David Cutcliffe in December 2007, the Blue Devils have not finished higher than 55th (2009).
The Blue Devils’ bump in recruiting has matched their uptick in on-field success. In 2013, Duke won a program-record 10 games to finish atop the ACC Coastal Division, reached its second consecutive bowl game and climbed to No. 20 in the AP poll after failing to crack the poll or qualify for the postseason in every season since 1994.
Director of player personnel Kent McLeod, who oversees Duke’s recruiting, said he thinks high school coaches and players perceive the program differently in light of its recent surge. McLeod said Blue Devils assistants used to joke about entering high schools hoping to recruit certain players, only to be disappointed when coaches pulled out the “Duke list” comprising less-heralded players considered more likely to choose the Blue Devils.
“I definitely think there’s a bigger buzz,” McLeod said. “Even when [Duke coaches] go in schools, and you hear them talk, it’s totally different. Our reception seven years ago versus now, it’s like not even the same.” Added recruiting coordinator Zac Roper, “[Recruits] see what they’re looking for when they come to a Duke game and that excitement is certainly in the air each and every Saturday.”
The types of players that routinely neglected Duke are now beginning to take the Blue Devils more seriously. In the 2015 class alone, Duke has received commitments from players with scholarship offers from Nebraska, Washington, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Stanford and USC.
“Duke’s not beating out mid-majors for football players anymore,” said Steve Wiltfong, the director of recruiting at 247 Sports. “They’ve taken a step forward and they’re beating out teams that they need to beat on Saturdays for kids.”
Mike Farrell, Rivals.com’s national recruiting director, said Duke’s performance in last season’s Chick-fil-A Bowl (now known as the Peach Bowl), an exciting 52-48 loss to Texas A&M, and Cutcliffe’s work with Peyton Manning has helped Duke’s recruiting pitch to offensive players.
“Especially the offense has really caught a lot of attention,” Farrell said of Duke.
After Petite announced his commitment, he began recruiting Mater Dei (Calif.) High linebacker Ben Humphreys, a four-star prospect according to three major recruiting services. Humphreys, who counts offers from Washington, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Arizona State, among other programs, committed to the Blue Devils on July 19.
Though Petite’s commitment and subsequent recruitment of Humphreys -- Petite called Humphreys “probably my biggest project” -- caught Humphreys’ attention, the two California-based prospects were also drawn by the possibility of contributing to the football program’s rise.
“You can just see, they’re coming up,” Humphreys said. “They got a great recruiting class last year, my class is filled with a bunch of great commits and it’s on the rise, and I really want to be a part of that.”
Other highly touted prospects in the 2015 class include Oaks Christian (Calif.) High offensive lineman Reno Rosene, Lambert (Ga.) High defensive end Trevon McSwain and Griffin (Ga.) High receiver Keyston Fuller.
The next challenge for Duke is to sustain its recruiting momentum. The Blue Devils have already received a verbal commitment from Scott Bracey, a wide receiver considered a top-100 prospect in the class of 2016, and they could be in the mix for highly touted junior dual-threat quarterback Brandon McIlwain. Still, if Duke can’t sustain its current winning pace, the recruiting boom could recede.
“Unless Duke is going to become a traditional power in the ACC -- which I can’t see them doing with the academic restrictions they have and the fact that everybody thinks they’re a basketball school -- I think it’s going to be really hard to maintain,” Farrell said.
Around the nation
- Josh Sweat, the top-ranked weakside defensive end in the class of 2015 according to Rivals.com, suffered a severe injury to his left leg in the second quarter of Oscar Smith (Va.) High’s game Friday night. Sweat was loaded into an ambulance and taken to a local hospital, where he was reportedly diagnosed with a dislocated knee cap. Rick Morgan, Sweat’s coach, told The Virginian-Pilot that Sweat could undergo an MRI exam later this week after the swelling in his knee subsides. Sweat had been scheduled to take an official visit to Virginia Tech this weekend.
Appreciate all the love! This a minor setback for a major comeback! I'm good y'all!— Josh Sweat (@JoshSweat9) September 20, 2014
- Oregon’s involvement with Texas-based scout Willie Lyles led to an NCAA investigation and the school incurring relatively light penalties. Lyles has resumed scouting and is reportedly doing some work in South Florida. "I'm here talking to universities, talking to high school coaches, getting a feel for the place," Lyles told the Sun Sentinel. The newspaper sat down with Lyles for an interview.
- CeCe Jefferson, the No. 2 strongside defensive end in the class of 2015, will miss the rest of his senior season after injuring his left shoulder. Jefferson said on Twitter that he tore some soft tissue around his labrum and that he will have minor surgery, which he expects will sideline him for 6-8 weeks.
- Let the fake magazine cover recruiting arms race continue. Earlier this month, heralded defensive tackle Shy Tuttle tweeted a picture of a Rolling Stone magazine cover sent by Tennessee that featured him next to Beyonce. Wake Forest created a similar image for Millbrook (N.C.) High defensive lineman Kengera Daniel, plastering him on the cover of People magazine next to Kim Kardashian. Apparently Daniel is not the only player for whom Wake has created a customized People cover. In this version, Millbrook teammate Marcus Marshall is pictured next to Selena Gomez. If the Demon Deacons fail to land these prospects, their Photoshop craftsmanship won’t be to blame.
- East View (Texas) High’s Apollos Hester was excited after his team’s 42-41 win over Vandergrift (Texas) High on Friday night. Listen to him explain why in this remarkable post-game interview.
- Dondre Harris is a massive human being. The 7-foot, 380-pounder is a starter at defensive tackle for Essex (Va.) High but has also spent time on the offensive line, according to a report from MaxPreps. Head coach John Fulks said Harris has not yet garnered much interest from college coaches.
- Cedar Hill (Texas) receiver DaMarkus Lodge has reportedly decommitted from Texas A&M (reports his coach later disputed). Lodge, the No. 5 receiver in the class of 2015, is said to be particularly interested in three schools: Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU. Another highly touted prospect who reportedly decommitted this week is Westminster Christian (Fla.) School running back Jordan Cronkrite. Cronkrite, who had pledged to Miami in April, told the Miami Herald that he has not spoken with the Hurricanes’ coaching staff since July. Three other 2015 tailbacks have verbally committed to Miami: St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) High’s Jordan Scarlett, Booker T. Washington (Fla.) High’s Mark Walton -- who is reportedly set to reclassify from 2016 to ’15 -- and West Orange (Fla) High’s Dexter Williams. According to the Herald, the now-uncommitted Cronkrite is interested in West Virginia, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Ohio State and South Carolina.
- Calvin Ridley’s high school career is over. Ridley, the No. 1 receiver in the class of 2015, who committed to Alabama in April, is ineligible due to age restrictions. According to Florida High School Athletic Association Rules, players who reach the age of 19 years and 9 months are not permitted to compete. The Monarch (Fla.) High standout caught seven passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns Friday night in his final game, a 48-0 win over Piper (Fla.) High. Former Florida State and current Carolina Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin had his career at Glades Central (Fla.) High cut short because of the same rule.
- Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant was the honorary captain at Friday night’s game between Westmoore (Okla.) High and Norman North (Okla.) High. Durant also posted a video to his Instagram account of him throwing a football at the game with the caption “I can go 20-25 for 316 and 4 touchdowns. What u think?”
- A game between Sherwood (Md.) High and Springbrook (Md.) High scheduled for Friday was moved to Monday after players suffered rashes and burns from a disinfectant applied to Springbrook’s football equipment. Springbrook athletics director Rob Wendel told The Washington Post that some players sought medical attention. The school reportedly planned to borrow equipment for the game Monday and plans to purchase new equipment. Wendel told the Post that the locker room was cleaned with “an appropriate disinfect inappropriately used.”
- South Oak Cliff (Texas) High senior Jamile Johnson flipped his commitment from North Carolina to Texas. Johnson is the No. 23 safety in the class of 2015. (Johnson was also once committed to Oklahoma). Another player who flipped his commitment is Pasco (Fla.) High senior Bowman Archibald, from Miami to Wake Forest. Archibald is the No. 18 tight end in the class of 2015. Miramar (Fla.) High senior Tyrek Cole decommitted from Florida State and later committed to West Virginia. Cole, who was suspended indefinitely Tuesday, is the No. 18 cornerback in the class of 2015.
- Brandon (Miss.) High senior Fletcher Adams committed to Mississippi State. Adams is the No. 17 defensive tackle in the class of 2015.