Duke RB Snead: 'This year we’re trying to be legendary'
On one hand, Duke’s football season got off to a great start Sunday and Monday because, unlike last season, a tardy player didn’t cause a 5 a.m. wake-up call the next day.
On the other, a distraction the team’s veterans hoped to avoid was present nevertheless. And it was caused by, surprise, a veteran.
Duke gathered as a team Sunday and hit the practice field Monday to start fall practice aiming to build on one of the greatest football seasons the school has ever seen.
They did so without redshirt senior tight end Braxton Deaver, a returning starter and weapon on the offense.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Deaver is being held out of team activities. Deaver is not injured and Cutcliffe didn’t say he was suspended. The coach did say the third-team All-ACC pick from last season hasn’t been working with the team all summer but that, if he completes the tasks Cutcliffe requires, he’ll be back with the team this Saturday.
“Braxton is not going to join us until Aug. 9 (Saturday),” Cutcliffe said. “He’s doing a few things to satisfy me, which I expect to be done in a timely manner. He should be finished with those things and ready to go and in great spirits and attitude by Aug. 9. I’m looking forward to that for him.”
A year ago, Duke was coming off a 2012 Belk Bowl appearance, the first bowl game the Blue Devils had played in since the 1994 season.
This year, Duke begins the new season after going 10-4, winning the ACC Coastal Division, playing Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and finishing the season ranked No. 23 in the final Associated Press top 25.
When the team met to start practice one year ago, the discipline hammer came down hard.
“We had one guy that was fashionably late,” Duke running back Josh Snead said, deciding to protect the guilty party’s name. “So we had to come in at 5 a.m. the next morning.”
This time, with a new accountability system in place, the players sent group texts among themselves to ensure everyone was where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be.
That system, where the team has been divided into six different groups, has been in place to help prevent any other off-field issues from interfering with preparation for a highly anticipated season.
“Before we left for our little brief break last week,” Duke senior wide receiver Jamison Crowder said, “we pretty much made it clear that we didn’t want any distractions going into camp. ‘Everybody make sure that you get here on time. At dinner, stay here until the meeting starts.’ Everybody did that and we got off on the right foot.”
Deaver’s issue isn’t new to the players or the coaches. It’s just new to the public because Cutcliffe revealed it Monday.
Last season, Deaver was a key part of the Duke offense that fueled all of the success. After missing the 2012 season with various injuries that required three surgeries, Deaver bounced back to catch 46 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns.
In the 52-48 loss to Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Deaver caught six passes for 116 yards.
While he’s not working out with the team or taking part in practices or meetings, Cutcliffe made it clear that Deaver is working.
“He will not workout with us,” Cutcliffe said. “He will workout on his own. He’s obviously doing some things for me and when he gets those things completed he should join us by (Saturday).”
Snead averaged 6.1 yards per carry last season to lead Duke’s improved running game. As a redshirt senior, he’s worked to be as impactful off the field as well.
The Blue Devils, Snead said, have a system in place and a standard to follow.
“You are not just a reflection on yourself,” Snead said. “You are a reflection on this Duke football team. We’ve built a brand here now that has great character, great men built off of conditioning and discipline.”
Deaver’s apparent transgressions and walk-on safety Hud Mellencamp’s arrest in Indiana for underage drinking represent the exceptions this summer.
Despite that, the Blue Devils remain confident their system and their approach can help them have another memorable football season.
“We were great last year,” Snead said. “This year we’re trying to be legendary. We had one of the best records ever here. This year we’re trying to improve upon that.”
Little has been expected of Duke in previous seasons. The Blue Devils were annually picked last in the Coastal Division.
This season, Duke is receiving votes in the preseason top 25 polls and was picked third in the division.
On Monday, Sports Illustrated listed Duke as a sleeper to make college football’s new four-team playoff.
Crowder said the team’s internal leadership, along with a host of talented returning players, makes it easy to remain hungry for more success as the accolades fly.
“With our mentality as a team it’s easier to deal with,” Crowder said. “We know we have a great group of guys who can compete on a high level with anybody. We just have to go out and execute, then we will fulfill those expectations.”
Follow Steve Wiseman on Twitter at @stevewisemanNC.