Just weeks into the fledgling football season, head coach Ted Roof is making his intensity felt in the Blue Devil football program.
“I think that his attitude and his approach to the game really generate a lot of respect, not just as a coach, but as a person as well,” transfer Curt Dukes said. “He’s a coach that you want to play for. You want to go out and put your body on the line for [him]. He’s just that kind of coach.”
That excitement has been evident through off-season workouts and preseason practices, where this year’s Blue Devils have reported strong, tough and ready for the season.
“We just wanted to get everyone back and get everyone together and get our mind off things and focus on football—put on the pads and start hitting again,” said senior linebacker Giuseppe Aguanno. “It almost couldn’t have come soon enough for us.”
Consequently, the coaching staff has been upbeat about the the players’ performance in the first two scrimmages and practices.
“We’ve got a lot of bumps and bruises because it has been physical,” Roof said. “But the tempo has been good; we’ve been pleased with that. We’re obviously excited about the season and where we’re going.”
Especially impressive this preseason are the Duke freshmen, who Roof says will see the field often this season. In the first scrimmage August 15, freshmen Jomar Wright and Tim Ball led the team in receiving and rushing yardage, respectively. In the second scrimmage Aug. 18, freshman running back Justin Boyle established himself as a red zone force with a pair of touchdowns. In addition, Roof mentioned first year wide receivers such as Corey Thompson and Chancellor Young when asked about players who had moved themselves up the depth chart.
“We’re very excited about our freshman class,” Roof said. “Usually at this point in time with most freshman classes you think, ‘Okay if we signed 20 kids, we missed on four or five.’ At this point, there’s not a kid we signed that we can say that about.”
The team’s biggest newcomer this season, however, may not be a freshman. Nebraska transfer Dukes has become the Blue Devils’ version of Kordell Stewart in preseason practice, taking snaps at quarterback, running back and receiver.
“He is one of our better players, and good things seem to happen when he touches the football on a consistent basis on the practice field,” Roof said. “We’ve moved him around and gotten him the ball; handed it to him and thrown it to him and then of course he’s played quarterback too. He’s had a real good camp so far.”
For the Blue Devil defense, that versatility has made him one of the team’s most difficult players to defend.
“When Curt’s in there’s a light that goes off,” Aguanno said. “You’ve got to be prepared for anything when he’s in because he can do everything.”
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Dukes’ flexibility will be important as he takes the field this fall. Although both Dukes and senior signal-caller Chris Dapolito will take snaps at quarterback, Roof named sophomore quarterback Mike Schneider the Blue Devils’ starter for what has been described as a more pass-oriented offense than Duke has run in years past.
“It’s difficult because they throw multiple formations at you,” Aguanno said. “They’ve got people running all over the place.”
Yet the Blue Devil defense has been equal to the task of containing new offensive coordinator Marty Galbraith’s complicated offense. Defensive end Phil Alexander enters his senior year 20 pounds stronger and, as Roof called it, “stronger to the point of attack.” Casey Camero has bulked up as well, checking in at 275 pounds and shifting to defensive tackle, according to fellow tackle Orrin Thompson.
In the linebacking corps, Aguanno appears to have picked up for the Blue Devils where Ryan Fowler left off, notching three tackles for loss in the first scrimmage.
“We lost Ryan, but we feel like our linebacking corps hasn’t lost a step,” Aguanno said. “We’ve got experience everywhere. As far as Malcolm [Ruff] goes, Malcolm’s just been an absolute beast. He got really strong last off-season.”
Despite their losses, then, the Blue Devils have remained upbeat, motivated and focused on the upcoming season.
“It’s the culture that he’s brought about,” said senior cornerback Kenny Stanford. “I think as long as Coach Roof is here, you’ll see that excitement.”
Wide receivers Khary Sharpe and Lance Johnson are not on the team roster this season. Johnson was dismissed from the team in July for undisclosed reasons. Sharpe has transferred to James Madison for his final season of eligibility.
Sophomore wide receiver Deon Adams has cemented his position as one of the Blue Devils’ top five wide receivers, according to Roof.
Roof reported that starting running back Cedric Dargan has been impressive in pass-blocking drills. He also mentioned that Dargan will likely catch more passes out of the backfield this season.
Freshman offensive lineman Jon Terry will redshirt after season-ending knee surgery.