Duke hoping for sea of blue against Miami today

Nov. 15, 2013 @ 07:34 PM

A popular saying around Duke’s campus is that people should always leave a place better than they found it.

The Duke football seniors who will honored at their final home football against No. 24 Miami today (3:30 p.m., ESPNU), are walking examples of that motto.

They came to Duke shortly after David Cutcliffe arrived as head coach in 2008. At the same time, Duke’s lawyers were arguing in a Kentucky courtroom that the Blue Devils had the worst Division I football program in America and thus the school shouldn’t have to pay a penalty for getting out of a contract to play Louisville.

The thinking was that the Cardinals could easily find another team because everyone is better than Duke. The judge agreed.

In that atmosphere, with Duke having won 10 games total over the previous eight seasons, the players who are now grizzled veterans cast their football futures with Duke.

“That’s a lot of buy-in into the program,” Cutcliffe said. “They’ve done it 12 months every year they’ve been here. Those guys have no complaints. Really bought in and led. They’re pretty special.”

The eldest player is defensive end Kenny Anunike, whose first season on Duke’s campus was also Cutcliffe’s in 2008. Knee injuries have plagued Anunike’s career and he’s now a 23-year-old player who was granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA.

The players who are now fifth-year seniors include all-ACC cornerback Ross Cockrell, fellow starting cornerback Garett Patterson, starting defensive end Justin Foxx, starting defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento and reserve safety Anthony Young-Wiseman.

On offense, starting left guard Dave Harding and starting right tackle Perry Simmons arrived on campus in 2009. So did reserve offensive lineman John Coleman.

This year’s four-year seniors arrived in 2010, after Cutcliffe had led Duke to nine wins over his first two seasons but had yet to produce a winning season. Starting wide receiver Brandon Braxton and Juwan Thompson, a running back who is also playing some linebacker, showed up on campus that season.

In 2010 and 2011, the first two seasons all these players were on the field, Duke went a combined 6-18.

But they’ve been part of the big turnaround Cutcliffe talked about over the last two seasons. Duke went 6-7 last season, losing in the Belk Bowl as the Blue Devils made the postseason for the first time since the 1994 season.

This season, they’ve helped Duke (7-2, 3-2 in ACC) post the first winning season since that 1994 squad went 8-4. The Blue Devils enter today’s Miami game riding a five-game winning streak, the longest since 1994.

“I’m excited what these guys have done,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m counting on a huge Duke crowd to send them off properly.”

Today’s game has more riding on it than any home game since the 1994 season. With Georgia Tech’s loss to Clemson on Thursday night, Duke can claim its first ACC Coastal Division championship by beating Miami today and Wake Forest and North Carolina over the next two Saturdays.

At the same time, Miami (7-2, 3-2 in ACC) can end the Blue Devils Coastal title hopes with a win today. The Hurricanes are riding a two-game losing streak, having lost to Virginia Tech 42-24 last Saturday.

Duke hasn’t defeated Miami since 1976. But the Blue Devils, particularly their seniors, heard about a lot of those stats when the came to Duke.

They’ve spent the last four or five (and in Anunike’s case, six) years ending those kind of streaks.