Brandon Connette, who excelled in a utility role this year, enrolled in the Spring of 2010.
Brandon Connette, who excelled in a utility role this year, enrolled in the Spring of 2010.

Just two weeks after a heartbreaking loss to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, Duke got a jump on its preparations for the 2013 campaign when four members of its incoming recruiting class enrolled a semester early.

Cornerbacks Evrett Edwards and Quay Mann, linebacker Dominic McDonald and quarterback Parker Boehme began their academic careers at Duke Wednesday and are set to join the Blue Devils for spring practice, easing their transition into training camp this summer. Duke currently has verbal commitments from a total of 18 recruits in the class of 2013.

“It gives us a jump on learning the playbook and getting more familiar with the speed of the game,” Edwards said. “It’s going to be a tremendous advantage, to be familiar with the terminology and have chemistry with the veterans that are returning.”

In recent years, it has become commonplace for top recruits to matriculate a semester early at many of college football’s powerhouse programs. During his tenure as the Blue Devils’ head coach, David Cutcliffe—the reigning ACC Coach of the Year—has sought to bring more players onto campus early in an effort to prepare them for the rigor and pace of college football. Once a rare practice at Duke, 13 football players have now enrolled early in the past five seasons. Those players have included Brandon Connette, Josh Snead, Sydney Sarmiento and Thomas Sirk.

Mann said that this trend indicates the growth of the program. The Rocky Mount, N.C. native was on hand in Charlotte, N.C. last month to watch the Blue Devils play their first bowl game in 18 years.

“It speaks a lot about the program. The program’s recruiting has stepped up a lot in recent years,” Mann said. “Duke has worked harder to get higher-rated prospects and bring them on campus early because the coaching staff believes they can play.”

McDonald, a native of Longwood, Fla., was a first-team All-State selection following his senior season at Lake Brantley High School. Boehme, also a Florida native, threw 40 touchdowns and earned All-State recognition during his junior year before his senior season was cut short due to injury.

A native of Woodbridge, Va., Edwards is one of the more highly-touted prospects in Duke’s incoming recruiting class. In an interview with The Chronicle last November, Edwards said Nick Saban, head coach of back-to-back national champion Alabama, called him “the best high school corner he has seen this year.”

With the Blue Devils losing two of their top cornerbacks from last season to graduation, the experience of Edwards and Mann in spring practice could have a large impact on the future of the Duke secondary. Not only could they potentially take on significant roles in the defensive backfield next season, but, by playing and living together as roommates, Edwards and Mann will be able to develop chemistry both on and off the field.

Following their decision to enroll for the Spring semester, Edwards and Mann both said they were welcomed by their new teammates with open arms in anticipation of their arrival. Edwards expects to be mentored by first-team All-ACC selection and team captain Ross Cockrell, who was Edwards’ host on his official visit.

“Just being able to follow someone’s lead who was an all-conference player, to step into a new situation and have someone that talented to guide me, I think that’s just tremendous. You can’t ask for anything better,” Edwards said.

Meanwhile, Duke’s newest football players will have time to adjust before spring practice begins. This means not only becoming academically acclimated but also getting used to life at Duke, which Edwards said may mean a few trips to Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“I’m glad that I get to get on campus while it’s still basketball season,” Edwards said. “It’s such a big part of life at Duke. I can’t think of any better way to get to know Duke than to get to know Duke basketball.”