Blue Devils continue to take ‘ownership’
Since becoming Duke’s football coach five years ago, David Cutcliffe’s goal was to leave the program better than he found it.
In leading the Blue Devils to their first bowl game since 1994 this past season, he’s gone a long way toward accomplishing that goal.
Along the way, though, Cutcliffe is making sure his players improve the Duke campus off the field, as well.
On Monday, Duke’s football players and coaches walked around campus picking up litter to beautify their surroundings for the sixth consecutive year.
“I think they take a sense of ownership,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re not here renting. You’ve got to understand (that) you’re not a renter, you’re an owner. That ownership in Duke University and the pride, beyond football, makes a huge difference.”
The Blue Devils’ Campus Clean-up event lasted a little more than an hour, a little shorter in time than scheduled. But it wasn’t because the team is slacking off.
“I think we’ve made a difference,” Cutcliffe said. “I really see less litter. I think the awareness is great.”
The Blue Devils met early for a team breakfast before breaking into four groups and scattering across campus to begin the cleanup at 7 a.m.
“This year it was kind of quick,” Duke redshirt senior defensive lineman Sydney Sarmiento said. “It was a lot cleaner than it has been in the past.”
The July Campus Clean-up is a signal to the Duke players that the new season is drawing closer. The ACC’s coaches and selected players from each school will gather in Greensboro this coming Sunday and Monday for the league’s Football Kickoff media event.
Practices officially begins in the first week of August.
Sarmiento said the Blue Devils have been working so much in the offseason, on strength and conditioning as well as working among themselves as position units, that the season’s approach won’t feel like extra work.
Cutcliffe agrees that the work never stops.
“You can’t do enough,” Cutcliffe said. “Football is now a 12-month proposition. These guys are here year around. These guys have become close-knit. When you are close-knit and doing something positive, that goes a long, long way.”
Duke had its best season on the field in a long, long time in 2012. The Blue Devils won six of their first eight games and ensured themselves bowl eligibility with a 33-30 win over rival North Carolina on Oct. 20.
The Blue Devils lost their final five games, including a 48-34 setback to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.
Cutcliffe said most of his players who had offseason surgeries have healed and returned to work as expected. The players back from last year’s team don’t plan on that Belk Bowl loss being their only postseason experience.
“I’m really pleased with work ethic,” Cutcliffe said. “The thing I’m most pleased about is the amount of work they’ve done on their own together. That’s become better and better in that regard for us.”
Duke’s defensive coaches are counting on the front seven, including guys like Sarmiento, being the strength of that unit this season. That is different from years past, when the Blue Devils were considered weak up front.
“We are certainly experienced up front,” Sarmiento said. “We know we have to take on that role if we want to succeed. Everything always starts with the offensive and defensive lines.”
Now that Duke has been to a bowl, Cutcliffe knows expectations abound among the fan base for more postseason trips. He’s just fine with that.
“I hope no one looks past us,” Cutcliffe said. “I like the fact that we are creating expectations. I expect to see people’s best, and I hope our guys give our best. That’s part of the growth of the program.”