Duke football loses all-ACC linebacker Kelby Brown for season
What had been feared initially became a harsh reality Tuesday morning when Kelby Brown told his Duke teammates he wouldn’t be playing with them this season.
An all-ACC linebacker and one of Duke’s vocal leaders, Brown suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during a scrimmage Monday at Brooks Practice Facility.
An MRI exam was conducted Monday night and, around 11 a.m. Tuesday, Brown confirmed everyone’s worst fears by announcing the seriousness of the injury during a team meeting.
“He’s in really good spirits,” Duke linebacker David Helton said, “which is unbelievable for him to be in good spirits at this time. But it helps us, honestly. Whether it’s emotionally or psychologically, it helps us to know that he’s in good spirits.”
Brown is scheduled to have surgery today. Dr. Claude T. Moorman, Duke’s head team physician and the director of Duke Sports Medicine, will perform the operation.
Moorman was on site Monday when Brown was injured and aided in the initial treatment of the knee.
“Obviously our hearts go out to Kelby and his family,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “As I said (Monday) night, here is a young man who is an All-ACC and All-America-type player on the field, and even a better person off the field. He has been and will continue to be an integral part of our program. He’s as fine a representative of our program as we have, and nothing will change that. He’s seen this type of adversity before, and I’m confident he’ll overcome this challenge.”
A redshirt senior from Charlotte, Brown missed the 2012 season after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee. He also tore the ACL and medial collateral ligament in the right knee in 2010.
NCAA rules allow players to use their four seasons of eligibility in five years. But should Brown wish to play his final season at Duke in 2015 the school could request a waiver to gain him a sixth year of eligibility.
Such waivers are almost always granted when an athlete misses two seasons due to catastrophic injuries. That was the case for Duke defensive end Kenny Anunike, who enrolled a Duke in 2008 and completed his career last season after sitting out two seasons with knee injuries.
Brown graduated from Duke in June with a degree in evolutionary anthropology while posting a cumulative grade point average of 3.729. He was named to the Academic All-ACC team in both 2011 and 2013.
He’s taking graduate classes at Duke Divinity School.
Last season, Brown recorded 114 tackles when Duke went 10-4 to win the ACC Coastal Division championship and finish No. 23 in the final Associated Press poll. Known for his knack for making big plays, Brown had 11 tackles for losses, one sack, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Helton starting alongside Brown and led the ACC in tackles with 133. He called Brown’s injury a “big hit” for the Blue Devils.
“We’ll make adjustments as needed but we’re definitely missing a playmaker and a good leader,” Helton said. “I’ll need to be more of a vocal leader. He’s been that guy. I’ve been more of a quiet guy. But I’m definitely going to have to become more in that role.”
Because Helton and Brown were returning starters after having standout seasons in 2013, Duke does have depth at linebacker.
Redshirt senior C.J. France started 10 of Duke’s 13 games in 2012 when Brown missed the entire season. He recorded two sacks in Monday’s scrimmage.
The Blue Devils have also been impressed with redshirt freshman Chris Holmes, who transitioned from safety to linebacker last spring. He showed his ability in Duke’s spring game with six tackles.
Holmes, though, is currently slowed by a hamstring injury.
Junior Deion Williams is another option. He has played in 27 games in his Duke career with one start.
While acknowledging Brown’s considerable talents, Helton believes the Blue Devils can still reach their goals this season.
“I still have full confidence in this defense without a doubt,” Helton said. “We have tons of talent, tons of speed. It’s going to be a really enjoyable year. I have full confidence in that.”
Meanwhile, Helton is just as sure that Brown will be a positive factor for the linebackers off the field and in the film room.
“Especially for linebackers, film study is so crucial,” Helton said. “He will play a pivotal role in that. I have full confidence that he’ll be in a key role.”