After winning 10 games with two- and-three-star recruits in 2013, Duke took the next step towards repeating the success of last year when it announced one of its most talented recruiting classes in program history Wednesday.
Duke signed 18 recruits on National Signing Day, 12 of which were ranked in the top 50 at their respective positions by ESPN. The Blue Devils inked four four-star recruits in their class, rounding out the group with 14 three-star players. The class is headlined by a pair of players from South Florida in wide receiver Trevon Lee—who announced his commitment Monday night and is Duke's only ESPN300 commit—and quarterback Nicodem Pierre, who is ranked as the No. 14 dual-threat quarterback prospect in the nation.
Although the Blue Devils' incoming class could be their most talented in head coach David Cutcliffe's six-year tenure, the reigning National Coach of the Year pointed to another reason why these 18 signees will be valuable additions to the Duke program.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys that are going to be really good teammates to the rest of the team,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve got some linemen with some size and mobility and range on both sides of the ball. We have helped ourselves again on the back end defensively at linebacker and safety, very active people. I think we’ve helped ourselves offensively with some really good prospects as playmakers, very versatile athletes in that regard.”
One thing that played into many of the recruits’ decision was the historic 2013 season the Blue Devils put together. Duke's on-field success was a key point in proving to the recruits, as well as the rest of college football, that the Blue Devils were ready to become contenders in the ACC.
Duke's run to the ACC championship game in 2013 was sparked by the play of its true freshmen in the secondary, with cornerbacks Breon Borders and Bryon Fields and safety Deondre Singleton all making impacts and starting games. This season, Cutcliffe focused his attention on the trenches, as eight of his 18 signees are linemen. The 2014 Blue Devils will look to replace two starters on the offensive line and three on the defensive line, with a number of other experienced linemen entering their final seasons in Durham.
The 18 recruits will come in with a lot of excitement for the coming years, as they have spent the past months connecting with one another and getting a feel for how the class will shape up on the field come August.
“[Seeing Duke have success last season] felt really good,” Pierre said. “Because it not only showed me, but it showed other players that Duke is a legit football program—that going there won’t just be for academics.... Everyone’s working even harder to make it better.”
While Duke’s season played a big role in convincing some of the players that were possibly on the fence about committing, a large chunk of the Blue Devil recruits were committed before the season began.
With many recruits already committed, they spent their fall playing the role of the Duke coaching staff by keeping in contact with those thinking about attending and pushing them to sign with the Blue Devils.
“I don't know the actual statistic, but I want to say more than 50 percent of us were committed before the season, myself included,” receiver Chris Taylor said. “For them, it was just an addition. For the last couple of guys that committed, it had a big impact. Not only did that have an impact but I had an impact texting them every day. Especially the guys from South Florida, the four of us.”
The Blue Devil coaching staff was all over the country when searching for the eventual 18 players that would round out their 2014 class. In the end, Florida was the state with highest number of representatives with four, including Pierre and Taylor.
Overall, the Blue Devils pulled three recruits each from North Carolina, Georgia and Ohio, two from California and one apiece from Missouri, South Carolina and Alabama.
“It will be very exciting because I’m going to go in with like four other South Florida players,” Pierre said. “So that will be really good because we all came from the same football background from South Florida, so that’ll be in common for us.”
The last addition to the class came Monday night when Lee—ranked as the No. 33 wide receiver in the nation—announced his decision to attend Duke instead of Vanderbilt. But Pierre said the decision came as no surprise to any of the future teammates.
“We’ve been in contact with each other, seeing what we were all thinking of going, but we all were pretty sure of where we were going,” he said. “And we’re all going to the same place at the end.”
Although Cutcliffe is not big on the recruiting rankings—Will Monday was the only four-star recruit on the 2013 roster—he admitted having quality never hurt anyone as long as the players were quality both on and off the field.
"I think it helps if they're the right ones, I will have to say that," Cutcliffe said. "Because some of those kids are so good that they are game-changers. Some of them are so good and the reason they have stars up there in the high numbers is that they're just great players. Again, we're not going to compromise the value for talent."