LIVE BLOG: Duke's National Signing Day

Photo by Chase Oliveri/The Chronicle

5:45 p.m.: In the official release from Duke Athletics, David Cutcliffe was hesitant to give players specific situations. Thus, we end up with a line like this: "The class includes one quarterback, 10 lineman and 16 backs." Given that type of specificity, it's surprising Sean Schroeder was listed as a quarterback.

So now, we're here to tell you how to classify "10 lineman and 16 backs" with this position-by-position breakdown, per Scout's classifications:

  • QB: Sean Schroeder
  • RB: Desmond Scott
  • WR: Tyree Watkins, Kyle Griswould, Corey Gattis, Conner Vernon
  • TE: Ryan Hall, John Farrell
  • OL: Dave Harding, Perry Simmons, Joey Finison, John Coleman
  • DL: John Drew, Brandon Putnam, Justin Foxx, Sydney Sarmiento
  • S: Walt Canty, August Campbell, Anthony Young-Wiseman, Garett Patterson
  • LB: Austin Gamble, Kevin Rojas, Tyree Glover
  • CB: Taylor Sowell, Zach Greene, Ross Cockrell, Lex Butler

Cutcliffe identified the team's two most critical needs as linemen and linebackers. The linebacking corps, which loses standout Michael Tauiliili, is officially only three recruits deep. But it could eventually include safety Walt Canty, the MVP of the Shrine Bowl, and August Campbell, of Arden's Christ School, like Mason Plumlee.

The incoming cornerbacks, too, seem to be one of the cornerstones of the class, as Sowell, Greene and Cockrell are all three-stars, and Butler is one of the most imperssive two-stars.

5:15 p.m.: Just take one gander around the Internet today—or, heck, read this blog, or this Twitter—and, in the words of David Cutcliffe, "it'd take a moron" not to understand the effect technology has had on recruiting. (And yes, we know that Cutcliffe was referring to Percy Harvin, but it was too good of a quote to ignore.) A high school running back knows of his counterpart in California through Scout or Rivals, and he's probably friends with him on Facebook. Maybe he has a Twitter, too, if he's anything like Shaquille O'Neal, the greatest Twittterer of all time.

Coaches like to talk about the importance of remaining hip with their current players, but staying modern is just as important in recruiting. What was de riguer five years ago is probably obsolete now—and one emerging trend is using players to recruit other players. We all read about Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen reaching out to other players considering moving to South Bend (that worked out well!), but you'd be a fool not to think Desmond Scott didn't pick up a phone or type out a few texts to some players over the last few months.

"It's amazing. They all know each other," Cutcliffe said. "They have their own little group of friends who are Blue Devil football players, and it's a pretty amazing thing to me. I knowa lot of people use that readily when recruiting them.... They're contacting each other, and they're developing friends with guys in California and New Jersey. It's pretty phenomenal. Technology has changed us all greatly—it's a pretty amazing thing. I've been using a bunch of technology today to contact a whole lot of people. It's phenomenal what you get done in a short period of time."

4:30 p.m.: It's been a long time since David Cutcliffe has met with the media, and it was certainly refreshing to hear from the always gregarious football coach again Wednesday. Some highlights from the press conference:

On two-star Walt Canty:Was he two stars? Do they multiply those? They should. Let me just tell you about that. I think, at times, those are fairly accurate at the high stars.... Well good gosh, does it take an Einstein to see Percy Harvin? You ever see Percy Harvin's high school tape? It'd take a moron not to say he's the best player in the country!

On the class: In our regard, this class is good for anywhere you are, any school we’ve ever been at, anything I’ve ever been involved with.  This class holds its head high. It will be one that, in my opinion, will be remembered by Duke Football fans.

On in-state recruiting: I can throw a rock a long way, so I can probably reach [UNC]. It's a little different. You feel like you're behind enemy lines a lot, but I think it's similar to being at Ole Miss and recruiting at Mississippi State—it's a couple of hours away, but it's pretty intense. The Tennessee thing is a little different because you dominate the state of Tennessee, and a lot of our wars occur outside the state. Right here, for in-state players, it's unbelievably competitive—and it's kind of fun, to be honest with you. I really have enjoyed that.

To close the press conference: It's 2009, here we go!... That's right, we got spring ball. Is it a contact day or a non-contact day?... Shorts and headgear only, OK? Y'all remember that.

4 p.m.: One technical question some people have been asking: How was David Cutcliffe able to sign 27 recruits if classes are generally limited to 25 players? It has everything to do with the four players who enrolled as freshmen in January and the fact that Duke hauled in a small recruiting class last year.

As we posted this morning, Zach Greene, Kevin Rojas, Ryan Hall and Sydney Sarmiento followed highly-touted recruits like Vince Oghobaase and Randez James and came to Duke a semester before most of their class. Because they enrolled early—like women's tennis freshman Mallory Cecil!—Cutcliffe can count them as part of last year's recruiting class, if he has room, and because the coaching transition limited Duke's Class of 2008 to just 17 Letters of Intent, Cutcliffe had plenty of room. So not only are the four players earning valuable reps earlier than expected, they are also helping out the Blue Devils' future in more ways than one.

2:30 p.m.: Just got off the phone with Mike Farrell, Rivals' ACC analyst, and he offered some insight into Cutcliffe's recruiting class. His thoughts:

On the class: It's one of the bigger surprises in the country, not just in the ACC. When you look at our rankings, in the ACC, you traditionally expect Duke to be 12th. This year, they're ninth. Now, that's not third or fourth, but it's still a lot better than 12th. It's a big class, too. Twenty-seven kids—you're not usually able to sign that many because of academics. Only a couple of four-stars, but a ton of three-stars, and you're usually only seeing a couple of three-stars.

On Desmond Scott: He's a guy they're going to rely on a lot. He's a three-down back. He can run the ball, catch the ball, he's durable, strong and fast. A lot of people thought he was overrated, and I kept looking at the film.... He was a combine kid that everybody said wasn't a great football player. But if you look at his production and what he does  on the field, this is a very good running back. There were a lot of schools that wanted him. But for Duke to steal him away from Rutgers—this is a kid who had an early Florida offer, and interest from Clemson, and they're very good at recruiting running backs.... He's going to be a guy that puts up a lot of big numbers for Duke.

On recruiting in North Carolina: It'll be tough. UNC is going to own the state for a while, because Butch Davis and the whole staff there is great at recruiting, and they've got a lot to sell there. They're a sleeping giant in football. They've got the facility, fan base, academics. You name it, they have it. It should have been much more competitive in the years since Mack Brown left.... It's going to be hard. N.C. State is making inroads all over again because Chuck Amato kind of ticked off a few local coaches and didn't recruit the state that well, so they've got some ground to catch up. Cutcliffe is a well-respected coach. He's got a good staff—they're aggressive. The biggest problem they have are academic restrictions that none of the programs besides Wake Forest have. They can't go after every kid. There were kids in North Carolina they would've loved to offer, but there's no way they could have. They can't take all of their talent from North Carolina, and they do a good job going into Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, everything down South. Duke needs to move up a little bit North, though.

Photo by Chase Olivieri/The Chronicle

1:45 p.m.: It's now official: Duke's Class of 2009, Cutcliffe's first class, consists of 27 recruits, nine from North Carolina. In his press conference, Cutcliffe said he emphasized speed, size and skill and that he was impressed with the reception he received when he tried to sell Duke Football to recruits and high school coaches.

Cutcliffe also deemed recruiting in North Carolina "critical," claiming that locking up talent within a 200-mile radius was "extremely important" for the Blue Devils to thrive. That becomes more difficult as Butch Davis' Tar Heels become more and more proficient on the recruiting trail, and it's certainly different from Tennessee, where Cutcliffe's Volunteers easily trapped in-state talent.

Finally, Cutcliffe confirmed that Zack Asack will switch positions next fall, but he wouldn't say where the former quarterback will move. He did add, however, that other players would swap positions, as well.

12 p.m.: And that's a wrap. Justin Foxx just faxed in his Letter of Intent, rounding out David Cutcliffe's first full class of 27 recruits. No Signing Day surprises (at least not yet), just as we expected.

Before we get Cutcliffe's take on the class in an hour, what are your thoughts? Are you happy with a recruiting class ranked around 50th in the country?

11:45 a.m.: We're just beginning to scan the local newspapers--waking up after 11 a.m. is one of the perks of being a college student, remember?--and the trend among Duke-related recruiting stories is obvious: The Blue Devils had almost unprecedented success recruiting locally.

The (Raleigh) News & Observer's Duke-centric National Signing Day preview's lede:

Duke is expected to sign nine players today who played high school football in North Carolina.

Those nine players represent more in-state commitments than Duke had in the past four years combined.

The Herald-Sun's story is much shorter and its online presence is less expansive, but the idea is similar:

Duke enters national signing day with nine verbal commitments from in-state prospects. It's new territory for the Blue Devils, who had totaled just 10 in-state signees over their previous four recruiting classes combined.

The quantity of successful in-state recruiting done by second-year coach David Cutcliffe is notable enough on its own, but there's quality to go with it as well. The group of prospects expected to sign today includes Hillside High School running back Desmond Scott, who received All-American status from SuperPrep magazine, which ranks him as the 32nd-best running back in the nation.

And while Cutcliffe recruited the Tar Heel State better than any Duke head coach has in a long time, he has a long way to go, especially because of the strides the school eight miles down the road made this year. Scout has Butch Davis' North Carolina class ranked as No. 3 in the country, and Rivals has it No. 7.

For the record, Duke's class has slipped to No. 50 on Scout and No. 51 on Rivals on National Signing Day. Not too unexpected, given the Blue Devils missed out on linebacker Mike Marry, their only recruit with the potential to surprise them, while other schools picked up more last-minute commits.

11:30 a.m.: T-minus 90 minutes to Cutcliffe's press conference, and so far, no news is good news. According to Scout, every Duke recruit but Charlotte defensive end Justin Foxx has sent in his Letter of Intent--and yes, Blue Devil fans, that includes Desmond Scott and Sean Schroeder. How's the thought of a backfield of Re'quan Boyette, Jay Hollingsworth and Tony Jackson with Desmond Scott as a redshirt sound for next year?

8:45 a.m.: Ironically, the first substantial piece of news of the day concerns a player who signed with Duke four years ago. The Associated Press reports that Zack Asack, Duke's backup quarterback last season, will switch positions as a senior, making room for redshirt freshman Sean Renfree and freshman Sean Schroeder on the depth chart behind incumbent starter Thaddeus Lewis.

Asack struggled down the stretch last year, when he was called on to replace an injured Lewis, but it will be interesting to see where he moves. Fullback? Tight end? Wide receiver? We'll be sure to ask Cutcliffe later today.

8:30 a.m.: Welcome to National Signing Day, the biggest non-story story of the year! We'll be posting sporadically over the course of the day as David Cutcliffe cements his first full recruiting class, dispatching scouting reports from the coaches of some of Cutcliffe's biggest pulls and filing plenty of observations from Cutcliffe's 1 p.m. press conference in Yoh Football Center. Cutcliffe will be the center of attention later tonight at the Hilton Durham—hors d'oeuvres and cash bar at 5:30 p.m., Cutcliffe's announcement to the fans at 6 p.m.

Before we skip ahead to the festivities the rest of the day, though, let's review the class. Cutcliffe expects written commitments from 27 recruits today. (Four of them—Zach Greene, Ryan Hall, Sydney Sarmiento and Kevin Rojas—are already on campus as early enrollers.) pegs Duke's class as No. 48, while Rivals has it at No. 50. For comparison's sake, those same numbers were No. 71 and No. 65, respectively, last season, and No. 64 and No. 78 the year before.

The full class, sorted by's numbers classification:


RB Desmond Scott (Durham, NC)


QB Sean Schroeder (Dana Point, CA)

DT John Drew (Columbus, GA)

OT David Harding (Orlando, FL)

LB Austin Gamble (Weston, FL)

TE Ryan Hall (Orlando, FL)

CB Taylor Sowell (Spartanburg, SC)

CB Zach Greene (Raleigh, NC)

CB Ross Cockrell (Charlotte, NC)

WR Tyree Watkins (Camden, NJ)

WR Kyle Griswould (Columbus, GA)


LB Kevin Rojas (Raleigh, NC)

TE John Farrell (Atlanta, GA)

S Walt Canty (Spartanburg, SC)

LB Tyree Glover (Crescent City, FL)

OT Perry Simmons (Raleigh, NC)

DE Brandon Putnam (Tyrone, GA)

DE Justin Foxx (Charlotte, NC)

OG Joey Finison (Jamestown, NC)

WR Corey Gattis (Durham, NC)

OT John Coleman (Florence, SC)

WR Conner Vernon (Miami, FL)

S August Campbell (Arden, NC)

CB Lex Butler (Anderson, SC)

S Garett Paterson (Richmond, VA)

DE Sydney Sarmiento (Florence, SC)

S Anthony Young-Wiseman (Bethesda, MD)

For those keeping score, that's nine players from North Carolina (including five from the Triangle), five from South Carolina and four from Georgia. Seems like recruiting close to home—in serious ACC country, no less—will be a priority for Cutcliffe in the coming years. More as the day unfolds.


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