Build a foundation, and they will come. Or at least, that’s what Duke head coach Ted Roof is hoping for with an aggressive recruiting strategy that has already upped the Blue Devils’ talent-level significantly.
In former head coach Carl Franks’ final two full recruiting classes, the Blue Devils secured the commitments of just one four-star recruit and three three-star recruits, according to recruiting service scout.com. In comparison, Duke scored eight three-star and two four-star commitments last year, Roof’s first full recruiting class. Moreover, Roof convinced defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase, one of the nation’s top 50 players, to spurn the likes of Oklahoma, Miami and Texas A&M to attend Duke. In doing so, Roof did what no Blue Devil coach had done in decades: convince a five-star recruit to choose Duke.
“[Duke’s recruiting has] taken on a whole new level of talent, but it takes time,” scout.com recruiting analyst Scott Kennedy said. “Before, they were trying to unearth the diamond-in-the-rough type, but you can’t win consistently signing 25 guys like that. Now they’re going after guys that a lot of schools are after.”
So how is Roof, coach of a program with just 20 wins in the past 10 seasons, convincing top-flight players to pick Duke?
“That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m recruiting you,” Roof chuckled, recounting his recruiting pitch. “It’s somewhat of a leap of faith right now, because it is belief without works. But I think that if they just come here, and once they visit here and get around our players, see how they work, see their belief, and see their ability, they’ll understand that we’re on the right track.”
Given the Blue Devils recent struggles, some of the nation’s top players view Duke as an opportunity to earn immediate playing time and turn the program around. During Oghobaase’s recruitment, the coaching staff told him he had the opportunity to become the Johnny Dawkins of Duke football—a reference to the men’s basketball team’s all-time leading scorer, who was one of head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s first major recruits.
And although Signing Day is still months away, some of Duke’s early returns are just as promising. Tyler Rice, one of the South’s top 100 players, has already committed to the Blue Devils. Three-star athlete Quenton Davie turned down a Kansas State scholarship offer to play for Duke. And fullback Brandon King, one of the nation’s top fullbacks, picked Duke over Oklahoma, marking at least the second recruit in the last two classes to choose the Blue Devils over the perennial BCS power.
What may be equally impressive, the Blue Devils have expanded out of Georgia, one of Roof’s traditional recruiting bases. Given the difficult task of building a recruiting class as an interim head coach, Roof recruited his native state heavily, drawing 10 players from Georgia in his first recruiting class. Last season, however, showed that the coaching staff is making Duke football known on a national level.
“I think they’ve been going after the same players [in Georgia],” Kennedy said. “What I see is that they’re going after the same level of players in other states now.... They’ve gotten players from Texas. They’ve gotten players from Florida.”
Even more promising is the fact that Duke’s recruiting improvement doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon. After identifying offensive line as one of his top priorities, Roof has three four-star offensive linemen—Tampa tackle Daron Rose, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., center Daniel Wenger and Bealeton, Va., lineman Alex Stadler—listing Duke among their final choices. All three have offers from some of the nation’s most storied programs, such as Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma and Michigan.
And if Duke can provide wins on the gridiron, Roof can take his program’s recruiting to a whole new level.
“If you win eight, nine, 10 games, compete for an ACC title, I don’t see why Duke can’t put together classes like Stanford, Northwestern, and Notre Dame do,” Kennedy said. But he had an admonishment for the Blue Devils, whose season started inauspiciously with a 24-21 loss at East Carolina last Saturday.
“The winning’s got to come first. Before you can recruit, you’ve got to win.”
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