Less than a week into his tenure as Duke football’s head coach, Mike Elko had the responsibility of welcoming a new batch of Blue Devils to the program as he hopes to reinvigorate its identity.
Wednesday’s National Signing Day marked the true beginning of the Elko era as the leader of Duke football.
“Today's about you, and then tomorrow, wake up and let's start going to work on the next chapter of where this goes,” Elko said. “It's an exciting day for us here at Duke football.”
Impressively, despite former head coach David Cutcliffe and his staff leading the recruiting efforts for the 2022 class, Elko’s hiring led to zero defections as all 16 of Duke football’s future stars remained on board after both Cutcliffe’s departure and Elko’s arrival.
“I think what I had to do was I had to get them just to trust and believe in me as best I could in a four day window,” Elko said about the transition. “And I really put myself out there as much as I possibly could for these families, these parents and these players, just so that they can get a feel for me.”
The class, which is ranked 52nd nationally and eighth in the ACC, features eight offensive and seven defensive players with one athlete who has the potential to play both sides.
The incoming class are all ranked as three-star recruits and come from a wide geographic area aside from the six in-state signees. Elko noted his excitement over the potential of Duke’s wide reach to recruits.
“I think that kind of points to that vision that we talked about, about being that national brand,” he said.
Aside from thanking Cutcliffe and his staff for their scouting efforts, Elko praised the work of the University’s faculty for sharing the vision of Duke with the incoming student-athletes before running down the list of prospects with their best traits on the football field.
Starting on offense, the class includes quarterback Henry Belin, running back Eric Weatherly and receivers Mekhi Wall, Wesley Williams, Jaden Watkins and Jake Taylor. Elko noted the potential of Belin’s arm, as he said the New York native’s “got a really big arm, I think he can throw the ball a mile.
”The biggest thing that jumped out to me about him is just such a command on the phone,” Elko added. “When you talk about being a quarterback and having to get in a huddle and have a commanding presence and leading men that kind of jumps off the page.”
Weatherly, a 5-foot-8 scat back from Jacksonville, Fla., has Elko excited about his explosiveness, elusiveness, versatility and ability to get involved in the passing game.
For each of the wide receivers and tight ends, Elko pointed out how important catch radius was and that each could be extremely useful as targets in the passing game and in crucial situations such as third downs and red zone chances.
The Blue Devils made some additions to the offensive line as well, which had been one of Duke’s strengths this past year, evident in part by running back Mataeo Durant’s record-setting season out of the backfield. Duke’s highest ranked recruit according to 247sports is Steven Nahmias, a guard from Atlanta.
“He comes off the ball, he rolls his hips,” Elko said of Nahmias. “He moves people—you'll hear us talk about that a lot. We don't want to block people, we want to move people. I think that's how you establish the line of scrimmage. So we're really excited to have him join the group.”
The “athlete” of the class, Terry Moore, fired up Duke’s new head coach as he begins to consider how to use the incoming freshman.
“This is the first time I had to put my head coach hat on, because I would love Terry to be a safety but then I remembered I'm not a defensive coordinator anymore. I'm a head coach. And so the fact that he can run the ball and put points on the scoreboard is really attractive too.”
On the defensive side, Elko shared his praises for each of the future Blue Devils. He especially noted the abilities of Carter Wyatt, a linebacker from Shallotte, N.C.
“However they get there, we want our linebackers on the bottom of the pile because that means they're productive and they're active and they're seeing things the way they're supposed to see them to get where they're supposed to go. And so [Wyatt] does that a lot—extremely productive, makes a ton of plays on film, another kid that I think can go sideline to sideline.”
He also noted his familiarity with defensive back Chandler Rivers, a Texas native who was in Elko’s focus when he led the defense at Texas A&M.
“He's got an unbelievable drive to be a great football player and I think that will serve him very well here.”
Reflecting on the class as a whole, Elko said that “I think it's a great group. I think I'm really happy for them. I think they're happy they're coming here. I think they can really make an impact on the field. I think they can be really competitive in this conference.”
“There was no kid that I watched on film and didn't think he fit in. So when you take over a program and you inherit recruits, it's really cool to just go through a list and say, ‘yeah, I would have taken him.’”
He closed by adding that “They got a really strong vision about what they want Duke to be and where they want Duke to go. And so we're really excited to welcome all these families into Duke and look forward to them doing really big things.”
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Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.