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Blue Devils excited for 1st game

The wait is almost over.

What was once nearly nine months is now less than a week.

When Duke takes the field Saturday evening against Richmond in its season opener, it will finally have a chance to begin to erase the memory of last season.

Nov. 19 is a day the Blue Devils would like to forget as soon as possible. That day's 24-21 loss against North Carolina was a painful end to a forgettable 1-10 season, in which Duke's only win was over a Division I-AA opponent. With the season over, the returning players and coaches could only take solace in knowing that they would get a chance to turn things around this fall.

After months of off-season workouts, spring practice and training camp, game week is finally here.

Duke's players and coaches couldn't be happier-or more relieved.

"Thank goodness it's game week," head coach Ted Roof said in a pithy one-sentence opening statement during his weekly Monday press conference.

"It's a double edged sword," Roof said when questioned further about reaching this point in the year. "You get to a point where you're practicing against the same guys, doing the same things-you need a game to focus on and now it's here. The other part is there's a lot of things you need to get better at real quick so there's a sense of urgency so as a coach you wish you had more time. But it's time to move on."

Roof isn't the only one ready to start looking forward. Team members also said Monday they are ready to finally play another team after nine months of seeing nothing but Duke Blue on the other side of the field.

"It's definitely exciting for everyone," senior linebacker Jeramy Edwards said. "Camp is long sometimes. You get that urge to just play somebody else. I'm really excited to finally play against another team and go against another color."

Duke's training schedule officially began when practice opened in Durham Aug. 7 while the majority of the players were busy finishing up classes during the second term of summer school. Once the players finished their academic work, the team moved into a grueling stretch that included several two-a-day practices and a multitude of team meetings and other responsibilities.

For some players, the wait has been even longer. Junior wideout Jomar Wright, who started two of Duke's first five games last season and is the team's active leader in receptions and yards, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Blue Devils' Oct. 1, 28-21 loss to Navy.

"For me personally, it's been a long time since I've been on the game field," Wright said. "Everybody's just ready to hit somebody else and get the season going."

With plenty of time to wait for the season's first game, Duke's coaching staff had the opportunity to do a number of things to prepare the players and ready themselves for the opening stretch.

Roof said the team used a lot of full-team 11-on-11 drills to get the young squad, which currently includes more than 10 freshmen on the two-deep depth chart, up to speed. The coaching staff put the team through a 100-play scripted simulation last Saturday to help plan for play-calling, substitutions and injury contingencies.

In addition, the coaching staff used the off-season to game-plan for Duke's first three opponents, Richmond, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. Last Tuesday, the coaching staff turned its full attention toward the Spiders, Roof said.

That the pressure is mounting with time winding down is not something the team fears.

"If you analyze how much preparation goes into a small number of games, these things have to be fun and you have to enjoy the competition," Roof said. "It would be a really rough sport if all you did was practice and there were no games. We have to enjoy that and understand this is what we've been building for, understand you have to be prepared for six o'clock on Saturday night."

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