Ready, set, go.
A quarterback controversy is brewing at the Yoh Football Center. Three talented signal-callers are all vying for the right to take the Blue Devils' first snap against Navy September 4.
Two of the candidates are well known to Duke fans. Redshirt sophomore Mike Schneider started eight games for the Blue Devils last year, winning three of them. The Sharon, Pa., native was the lynchpin of a three-pronged quarterback attack last year, throwing for 1,220 yards and four touchdowns, good for best on the team in both categories.
Timed at a 4.7 40-yard dash coming out of high school, Schneider is also an adept scrambler, just as capable of making defenders miss him out of the pocket as he is throwing the ball 40 yards down the field. With statistics and measurables like those, it isn't difficult to see why he's the early leader for the starting job.
"He's a strong-armed quarterback who can make a lot of big plays," said Tom Knotts, Duke's new quarterbacks coach, adding that Schneider had the strongest and most accurate arm of the three.
Contestant number two, Chris Dapolito, is a fifth-year senior with one career start. His start number, however, can be deceiving; he has played in 15 games and, as a fifth-year senior, Dapolito has more experience than any of the other candidates on Duke's roster. As such, the Matawan, N.J., native commands respect and has the greatest leadership qualities of the three quarterbacks.
"Kids seem to rally around [Dapolito]," Knotts said. "He's an excellent athlete, and we think he can get the job done."
As if that wasn't enough, Dapolito also completed an impressive 55.6 percent of his passes last year, good for best on the team, in compiling a 113.73 quarterback rating, also tops.
The last contestant, Curt Dukes, is the X-factor in the entire competition. Once upon a time, Dukes was one of the most highly coveted high school quarterbacks in the nation. A SuperPrep All-American who was rated as the No. 9 "Dual-threat" quarterback in America his senior year by Rivals.com, the Stony Point, N.C., native held formal scholarship offers from Duke, Nebraska and Penn State as a senior in high school.
"He was a catalyst, one hard-nosed tough kid," said Nick Bazzle, Dukes' coach at Newton-Conover High School. "[Nebraska quarterbacks coach] Turner Gill told us that Curt was one of the best passing quarterbacks they had had since before Scott Frost."
Dukes opted for Nebraska coming out of high school, entering a world of great expectations. Early on, the young quarterback showed promise, tying for second on Nebraska's depth chart as a true freshman.
"I think Nebraska fans got their hopes up because he was kind of a physical type of runner," said Brian Rosenthal, sportswriter for the Lincoln Journal-Star. "He was a bigger, physical guy who liked contact, and a lot of people compared him to Scott Frost when he came here."
Unfortunately for Husker fans, Dukes transferred out of the program after one year.
"I just didn't feel comfortable there," Dukes said, reflecting on his transfer. "I wasn't happy with myself or the direction I was moving."
The Huskers' loss, however, turned out to be the Blue Devils' gain. Dukes transferred to Duke last year, manning the scout team while he waited a year to become eligible under NCAA transfer rules. Now eligible, he adds gasoline to a raging competition for Duke's starting quarterback job.
"Curt Dukes has certainly raised some eyebrows with some of the things he's done," Duke head coach Ted Roof said. "He brings toughness; he can run with the ball, get on the perimeter, move the pocket, and things of that nature."
Despite having played in the run-heavy option offense his entire football career, he too has a remarkably strong arm, capable of heaving spirals 50 yards downfield. Additionally, Dukes has reportedly been timed at a staggering 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash and could bench press over 400 pounds coming out of high school. A exceptional athlete, Dukes could possibly wind up playing a position other than quarterback if he does not win the starting job.
"I think Curt is too good of an athlete to be standing on our sidelines," Knotts said. "I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't find himself on the field somewhere on this football team at some point in the game."
For all his athleticism, however, even Dukes will admit that he needs to work on his quarterbacking skills before fitting into the pass-oriented Blue Devil offense.
"I really need to brush up a little bit on mechanics and proper footwork," Dukes said. "It's something I've never really been taught; out there in Nebraska it was mostly option and we didn't really concentrate on the passing game."
Nonetheless, the quarterbacks involved in this battle royale have yet to feel the heat of the contest.
"Competition's always going to improve the way you play," Dapolito said. "But during spring ball the focus necessarily isn't on competition but on learning the offense because we have to run the team."
In fact, Roof, while reiterating that Schneider is the current leader for the starting job, mentioned that the contest was helping his quarterbacks improve.
"Mike Schneider right now is our starting quarterback," Roof said. "But all of them are competing, and it's a good race. It makes all of them better."
Additionally, Roof confirmed that all three quarterbacks would get playing time during the upcoming football season.
"I think you're going to see all three of them," Roof said. "In what capacity and what situations, who knows, but you're going to see all of them."
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