Duke lost a handful of household names when the 2012 seasons drew to a close. Gone are the days of Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon, the reliable aerial connection that helped guide this team escape its troubled past and reach its first bowl game since 1994.
A new crop of Blue Devils will take the field Saturday as the program hosts its annual Spring Game at 4 p.m. at Wallace Wade Stadium. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN3.com.
Redshirt junior Anthony Boone will lead the squad for the first time as the team’s new starting quarterback, hoping to show off his timing with Duke’s arsenal of young receivers.
“I think Anthony has really taken care of the football, and at the same time he has always had this ability to create and make plays," head coach David Cutcliffe said. "I think he’s gotten better at that without taking risks with the ball."
Although Boone was named the No. 1 starter by head coach David Cutcliffe as the team entered spring practice, he was expected to be challenged by redshirt freshman Thomas Sirk for the starting job. All that changed when Sirk ruptured his achilles and underwent surgery Wednesday, an injury that could keep him sidelined for the entire season.
This leaves the Blue Devils with an interesting dilemma for Saturday’s Spring Game. Under normal circumstances, redshirt junior Brandon Connette would move up to No. 2 on the depth chart and slide in to start for the second unit in Saturday’s scrimmage, but he has missed the entirety of spring practice after offseason surgery. The same goes for freshman Parker Boehme, who enrolled early at Duke before sustaining an injury of his own. He will be the Blue Devils’ third quarterback option once healthy.
That will likely leave two walk-on signal-callers—juniors Mackenzie Sovereign and Rob Collins—to quarterback one of the teams in Saturday’s contest. Cutcliffe spoke highly of both quarterbacks throughout last season, praising them for their work ethic and abilities on the field.
With Sirk now out of the picture, this is unquestionably Boone’s football team. Luckily for the Blue Devils, he appears not only poised and prepared, but also eager, to lead this team into the 2013 campaign.
“That’s just naturally who Anthony is,” Cutcliffe said. “I don’t think Anthony has fear. He loves competition, and I think his confidence level is warranted.”
Boone’s confidence is one of his defining qualities in the huddle, but off the field his boisterous personality can make him an unforgettable figure. Unlike some of Duke’s previous gridiron leaders, who preferred to take on more stoic personas, Boone’s lighthearted tendencies could help to keep his teammates loose next season.
“Just being able to be a positive force and somebody that everybody else can feed off of is my thing,” Boone said. “I’ve been trying to be more vocal because I’m the quarterback. On and off the field everybody is always going to be listening to you.”
But Boone will have to do more than lead if he wishes to replicate the team’s offensive success from last season. He will also need to concentrate on his accuracy in the intermediate passing game and develop timing with Duke’s young receiving corps, a unit that lost two of its top producers to graduation last season.
Although this will be Boone’s first appearance as the Blue Devils’ full-time starter under center, he has seen a fair bit of game action during his collegiate career. Boone played in 11 games for Duke last season, appearing in a variety of short-yardage packages and taking over for Renfree when he struggled with injuries.
Boone’s most notable performances in 2012 were against Wake Forest when he entered for an injured Renfree in the fourth quarter and led two touchdown drives to give Duke the victory and his lone start of the season against Virginia, when he threw a career-high four touchdown passes in a blowout win.
Now that Boone is the undisputed No. 1 starter, it is his job to prove that he can perform week in and week out. Duke’s new starting quarterback said he is confident he can handle that challenge.
“They gave me a chance to prove myself last year and show that I can lead a team in a game and handle the tempo in big situations. I think it’s a trust thing,” Boone said. “Once you get somebody’s trust they trust that you’re going to be able to get people in the right positions to win games.”