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Roof sets bar high for '05

Five years ago, landing James McGillicuddy would have been nothing more than a pipe dream for Duke football.

McGillicuddy, a defensive tackle prospect from Shrewsbury, Mass., has terrorized opposing quarterbacks, notching 12 sacks and eight forced fumbles during his senior season. At 6-foot-3, 300 pounds and with a 410-pound bench press, he has the bulk, the strength and the quickness to play immediately in college. With those numbers, McGillicuddy has established himself as one of the top players in New England and earned interest from the likes of Notre Dame, Stanford, Tennessee and Boston College.

This past weekend, however, McGillicuddy gave the Blue Devils an official visit, an indication of serious interest in playing for head coach Ted Roof. Thanks to a new coaching staff and a new recruiting pitch, Duke football has significantly improved its recruiting efforts with the class of 2005.

“We’re putting a premium on character and toughness, because I think that wins games for you in the fourth quarter,” Roof said of his recruiting efforts. “Then overall athleticism. We’re down to where we only have a few spots left. We’re really close to being done, but we’ve got to finish the class off with quality players.”

With the amount of high-caliber talent the Blue Devils are recruiting, that goal is a distinct possibility. In addition to McGillicuddy, a four-star prospect, Duke is believed to be heavily involved in the recruitment of at least four other prospects rated four stars or higher by scout.com, including Vince Oghobaase, one of the nation’s top 50 players.

One of those top-rated prospects, 6-foot-7 offensive tackle Paul Duncan, visits this weekend. One of the nation’s top 20 players at his position, Duncan’s size and footwork has attracted scholarship offers from LSU, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and UCLA, among others.

“For his size he’s a very agile player,” said Tim Glanton, Duncan’s coach at East Paulding high school. “He’s got very good footwork, got good balance, good body control, and that’s probably the biggest thing the colleges like about him other than that he’s a big kid.”

Duncan would also fill a hole for the Blue Devils, whose injury-riddled offensive line has struggled at times this season. The graduation of starting tackle Christian Mitchell accentuates Duke’s need for a punishing blocker to protect quarterback Mike Schneider.

The Blue Devils will also have another offensive tackle, West Linn (Ore.) native Ben Loebner, visiting this weekend. Loebner’s mammoth frame—he stands 6-foot-9 and weighs 322 pounds—oozes potential to become another impressive blocker. One of the top 25 players in the Pacific Northwest, Loebner also has a scholarship offer from Nevada.

On the other side of the ball, the Blue Devils have had difficulty on the defensive front as injuries and graduation have depleted Duke’s reserves. To that end, the Blue Devils are also recruiting defensive standout Ayanga Okpokowuruk from the McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 245 pounds, Okpokowuruk has impressive size and athleticism for a player at his position, athleticism that could make him an offensive coordinator’s nightmare in the future.

“I guess my strengths would be that I’ve got pretty strong legs and pretty strong hips,” Okpokowuruk said. “I’m pretty explosive off the ball. I’m able to get separation from the offensive line to make plays.”

Those abilities have made him the No. 30 defensive end prospect in the nation and a three-star prospect. A scholar as well as an athlete, Stanford, Duke and North Carolina lead for his services because of their total academic/athletic packages, Okpokowuruk said.

Even more impressively, scout.com reports that Oghobaase will visit the Blue Devils Dec. 3, giving Roof an opportunity to score his biggest recruiting victory ever. The Blue Devils will continue to recruit against some of the biggest names in college football.

“I'd say that obviously the programs are in different stages and guys that want to be an architect and lay the ground floor, I think this is a great opportunity,” Roof said. “ At the same time, you can get one of the best educations in the world and be part of an up and coming football program.”

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