As the saying goes, records are meant to be broken.
The Duke career sack mark has been in place since 1981, when Charles Bowser set the Blue Devil standard and finished his career with 22 quarterback takedowns. That record is in jeopardy, however, thanks to current senior defensive end Victor Dimukeje.
Just three years ago, Dimukeje arrived in Durham after a decorated career at Boys’ Latin School in Baltimore. A three-star prospect who was named to the Baltimore Sun All-Metro first team, Dimukeje was part of a recruiting class that has made a sizable impact on the Blue Devil program. Alongside fellow defensive end Chris Rumph II, tight end Noah Gray and other key contributors, Dimukeje has continued the narrative of head coach David Cutcliffe’s ability to bring in undervalued, yet motivated, talent to Wallace Wade Stadium.
Dimukeje has started every contest during his career, a testament to his durability. In those 40 starts, the Baltimore native has racked up 141 tackles, including 31 tackles for loss. But those numbers, albeit impressive, are overshadowed by the fact that Dimukeje is now at 19.5 sacks for his career, just 2.5 behind Bowser’s 39-year-old mark. And Dimukeje's dedication doesn’t just apply to the football field, as he plans to trade in his football jersey for a white coat and go to Physician Assistant (PA) school in the future.
“I don’t play for stats or accolades—I play to do my job and to win games, and the rest comes with that," Dimukeje told The Chronicle. "So, I’ve just tried to get better each and every year, play consistent, do my job and play for my teammates.”
Getting started in the DMV
Surprisingly, Dimukeje only began playing football in eighth grade, making the All-ACC performer’s rise all the more impressive. It also gives him something in common with Rumph, as both pass rushers got into the sport at a later age.
Dimukeje attributes a significant amount of his growth to his time at Boys’ Latin School, where he was able to face off against some of the top players in the country in the DMV area, a recruiting hotbed for college football.
“Just competing against guys in those big schools like St. Francis and Gilman in Baltimore—there’s a lot of talent that comes from Baltimore, so just being from that area helped me grow as a football player and compete at a high level,” Dimukeje said.
Making a name for himself at Duke
When it came time to make his college decision, Dimukeje had a wide variety of choices. Outside of Duke, his most notable offers were from Notre Dame, Army and every Ivy League university besides Dartmouth.
Ultimately, Dimukeje chose to move to the Bull City. In hindsight, the decision made perfect sense, as Duke gave him the chance to compete in the Power Five while helping him achieve his goals in the classroom.
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“With all my offers, I knew that this offered me the best academics while playing at a high level. Division I in the ACC—I mean, nothing beats that," Dimukeje said. "The relationship with the coaches that I made during the recruiting process helped make the decision easy.”
Right out of the gate, Dimukeje made things happen in the trenches, taking home first-team freshman All-American honors from ESPN after posting 40 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and two sacks during the 2017 campaign. Since that debut season, Dimukeje has dealt with expectations to perform week in and week out.
“I really wouldn’t call them expectations," Dimukeje said. "I just go out there and do what I have to do."
Oftentimes, programs see the makeup of their coaching staffs change on a yearly basis. Duke, on the other hand, has benefitted from relative consistency on the sidelines, with the 2017 recruiting class in particular being able to develop on and off the field with familiar faces leading the charge.
This certainly applies to Dimukeje, who has benefitted from having Ben Albert as his position coach throughout his entire Blue Devil career. Albert, who is currently Duke’s co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, has recruited and developed a revolving door of standouts in the trenches since joining the Duke staff in February 2016, though Dimukeje is on track to graduate as perhaps the most impactful of them all.
“[Albert] always talks about helping me grow as a man and helping the defensive linemen grow as men,” Dimukeje said. “I think it’s bigger than football with him. He wants to see you do well off the field. He’s helped me grow my game all four years—I’ve gotten better each and every year if you watch.”
For all of the impressive numbers that appear next to Dimukeje’s name in the stat sheet, the fact that he has started every contest since arriving on campus could be the most remarkable. By being there for his teammates at every juncture, Dimukeje has consistently set the tone for Duke’s defensive unit.
“I pride myself on that, because I go out there with the feeling of giving it my all, practicing with my teammates and playing with my teammates,” Dimukeje said. “Just being able to go out there all four years and do what I love for my teammates and start every game, that’s the special feeling and I’m just trying to go out the right way.”
Dimukeje also has some keen interests in the classroom, majoring in evolutionary anthropology. So while he may be best known on campus for his agile pass rushing moves, Dimukeje clearly fits the mold of academic and athletic excellence that Cutcliffe has instilled since arriving at Duke in December 2007.
“I wanted to do something related to the medical field, and [my major] talks about evolution of humans and stuff, so I’m kind of interested in that,” Dimukeje said. “I want to go to PA school, so that’s one of the reasons I chose that major and it’s going great so far. I’m just trying to finish strong.”
Marching toward history
At the start of the 2020 season, Dimukeje stood eight sacks behind Bowser’s all-time mark. Once the season began, however, the senior star quickly tightened the gap, with his 3.5-sack performance in Week 2 against Boston College turning heads nationwide.
At his current pace, Dimukeje has a legitimate chance to break the school record over the Blue Devils' next few games. With a historical achievement potentially in his future, one would think that Dimukeje is locked in on that specific accomplishment, but that is just not part of his humble nature. While he acknowledges the significance of what it would mean to have climbed the mountaintop, Dimukeje is primarily concerned with helping Duke turn its season around.
“Being part of history at Duke would be something special to me. That would mean I left my mark at this school and I did what I could for this program,” Dimukeje said. “If I eventually get it, I’ll be happy, but I just want to win some games and just keep working as a team.”
If he does break the record, Dimukeje will be ahead of many notable names in Duke football lore, from Bowser to Chris Combs to Super Bowl champion Kenny Anunike. So while Dimukeje’s lunch pail mindset fails to exude any semblance of overconfidence, folks should be taking note of his production. Because when all's said and done, we could be watching the most productive pass rusher in program history.