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Takeaways from Duke football's Friday media availability

Mataeo Durant broke out for 817 yards and eight scores on 6.8 yards per carry this past season.
Mataeo Durant broke out for 817 yards and eight scores on 6.8 yards per carry this past season.

After a recent setback due to a COVID-19 cluster within the program, Duke football is back at it. 

The Blue Devils returned to the practice field this past Wednesday, and the focus remained on adjusting to staff changes on both sides of the ball and giving young players some key reps. With the March 27 Spring Showcase on the horizon, running back Mataeo Durant and linebacker Shaka Heyward spoke with the media Friday morning. Here are a few takeaways:

Durant on the team’s mentality as they returned to the practice field: 

“You know, as a group, we were just ready to get back at it. Not being [able to] do something that we love [for] so long, we were just hoping that it wasn’t another episode from last year where we weren’t able to get the preparation that was key to having a very successful season. Going back out there this week, it was a lot of enthusiasm and excitement just to get back to work with the whole team.”

Durant on the impact of the offensive staff changes:

“I just feel like it’s just so beneficial for the team. [Co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Re'quan Boyette] is a great coach—any position that he’s in I know he has what’s the best interest for the whole team. Us having a new running back coach [in Calvin Magee], right now we’re still in the early stages of learning things that he wants us to do, like the different techniques that he’s had to teach his running backs that he’s had over the years. So far, we really love the way he coaches and he’s so enthusiastic every morning. We find it easy to gravitate toward him and just follow his lead as he coaches us.”

Durant on what he’s working to improve upon:

“One of the key things I’ve just thought about since the end of the season is the best characteristic or trait you can have is durability. So, me being the starter now, I want to be able to be durable, so I’m doing the correct things every day to make sure that I have my body right, to be able to take those hits from those 250-, 240-pound linebackers, and be able to play a whole game if needed, since the workload is going to kick up a lot.”

Durant on the quarterback competition between Gunnar Holmberg and Luca Diamont:

“As a team, we’ll just have to adjust. I know either quarterback that starts, I already have a great relationship with all the quarterbacks, when COVID wasn’t around we always used to hang out together. If it’s Gunnar, you know me and him, we came here in the same class—I’ll be so excited for him to get the opportunity. If it’s Luca or whoever, I’ll be excited for either person, because I know they’ll be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity that’s presented toward them. And it’ll be exciting to see how they take advantage of the opportunities.”

Heyward on which young defensive players have stood out to him so far this spring:

“I’ll start off with a younger guy that only had one spring here. DeWayne Carter, he’s really stepped up on the defensive line position. That’s a place where we lost a lot of leadership from last year with a lot of guys leaving [and] going to the draft. He’s really stepped up big time and helped out the defensive line group.”

Heyward on what the linebacker group can provide to the defense as a whole:

“Just our leadership, knowing the defense. As the linebackers we’ve been here for some of the longest times, me and Rocky [Shelton]. So just our experience and our vocal leadership will really help out our entire defense and getting them going as well. But we’ve got leaders in the secondary with Jeremiah [Lewis] too, and definitely in the defensive line like I said earlier with DeWayne Carter.”

Heyward on changing the trajectory of the program after consecutive losing seasons:

“I feel like that comes with leadership and accountability with everyone on the team, from top to bottom. Last year, that left a terrible taste in our mouths.... We could’ve had a really great season last year, but I feel like—like I said, this year we need a lot more leadership and accountability.”

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