Just one year ago, former head coach Carl Franks was having serious trouble attracting recruits to Duke's football program. Before his mid-season firing, he had only extracted three verbal commitments in a class that would eventually grow to 24 incoming players.
That, however, was before Ted Roof took over as head coach. He used limited resources and an incomplete coaching staff to compile the rest of Duke's class--including U.S. Army All-American wide receiver Chancellor Young, the group's highest-profile signee--and quietly began to attract the attention of some of the nation's top football players.
California defensive end/tight end Logan Paulsen, rated a four-star recruit out of five stars, lists Duke as one of his top three schools. National top-100 offensive tackle Paul Duncan, another four-star player, places Duke among his top five choices. Defensive tackle James McGillicuddy, a four-star player frequently rated as the top player in the New England region, also has the Blue Devils on the top of his list. Before Young, Duke had only received one four-star player--sophomore tight end Ben Patrick--in its past three recruiting classes. Oh, what a difference a year makes.
"We are over 10 commitments right now, already, and we haven't even gone into the senior year of these young men," said Glen Spencer, Duke assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator. "I think it is phenomenal what [Roof] has accomplished in the short time he has been here."
Among those 10 commitments are quarterbacks Gene Delle Donne and Zack Asack, who had been courted by the likes of Ohio State, Notre Dame, Georgia and Miami; Whiteville safety Marquis Melvin and Durham Jordan defensive end Kinney Rucker, who have both already received billing as two of North Carolina's top 20 prospects; and running back Travis Padgett, a speed demon who finished second in the 100-meter dash at a national track meet last year.
"[Men's basketball coach] Mike Krzyzewski said one thing: Don't be afraid to go recruit the best student-athletes in America," associate head coach David Kelly said. "We don't care what other school is after them or on them, we're going to fight because in order to get to the top, you've got to get in there and get the athletes that they play with. So that's what we're going after and real aggressively pursuing them and we've had a lot of success thus far. And again, because of everyone's belief and faith in the vision that Ted Roof has and the fact that he and this regime, this program, are going to accomplish that."
Thanks in large part to an extremely aggressive recruiting style, Roof and the new staff have already addressed the team's most pressing needs. With the anticipated graduation of Chris Dapolito after this year and with Mike Schneider and Curt Dukes' status as upperclassmen in 2005, the Blue Devils needed a quarterback desperately. In Delle Donne and Asack, however, Roof has found two very capable replacements.
"Duke hasn't had a freshman quarterback in two years and that is really unheard of," Spencer said. "Of course it is only a verbal commitment, but we do feel pretty strongly that we have upgraded at that position."
Additionally, Spencer hopes that the quarterback commitments, both relatively high-profile recruiting wins for the Blue Devils, will help to attract other top football players to Duke.
"That is what is important about early verbal commitment," Spencer noted. "Those guys will touch each other in the recruitment process and a young man who doesn't identify Duke as a proven winner right now will say, 'There are other high quality recruits coming in, so there must be something good going on down there.'"
Duncan, a high-profile player at one of Duke's high-need positions, is among those top players. The Blue Devils have just 10 returning offensive linemen this year, and although this year's incoming freshmen should provide some relief, Duke may look to alleviate a possible depth crunch with some offensive tackle prospects in this class. Likewise, Georgia offensive tackle Chris Scott, another four-star prospect rated among the nation's top 10 offensive tackles, is a possibility to protect the Blue Devils' signal-callers of the future.
Equally depleted, the defensive line will need both ends and tackles to man the trenches. To that end, Duke has already received commitments from Rucker and Charlotte (N.C.) Latin's Ryan Radloff, both defensive ends. The coaching staff, however, would perhaps love to add McGillicuddy, a mammoth defensive tackle with remarkable strength and agility, and Paulsen, an outstanding athlete with impressive speed, to its list of defensive line commitments.
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In order to address a wide variety of needs, the Duke coaches target a class of 22 or 23, Spencer said.
"We have to replace key talent across the board," he said. "But there is no one position where we feel like, 'Hey, we have to sign this amount this year.' We have to attack every position."
With that in mind, expect the Blue Devils to continue their aggressiveness on the recruiting paths this fall.
Jake Poses contributed to this story.