'Never in a million years' quarterback ready to start for Devils
While establishing himself as a top dual-threat quarterback at Weddington High School near Charlotte, Anthony Boone’s thoughts about Duke football were far from positive.
“I never thought in a million years I would have been here,” Boone said Sunday at the ACC’s Football Kickoff at the Grandover Resort. “When I got the first offer, I had a buddy who was a huge Duke fan who was telling me to go to Duke. And I was like, `I am not going there. I’ll never go there.’”
Some research about Duke coach David Cutcliffe’s history with quarterbacks helped change Boone’s mind. In the end, he picked Duke over South Carolina and Virginia Tech.
Now, he’s entering his redshirt junior season as the Blue Devils starting quarterback after serving as Sean Renfree’s backup last season, when Duke played in its first bowl game in 18 years.
“Just seeing how the staff goes about things, it was genuine,” Boone said of his recruiting experience.
Boone also liked the idea of going to a program that was down and helping turn things around. Prior to last season, Duke hadn’t qualified for a bowl game since 1994.
“Duke was the one that felt right to me,” Boone said. “It’s easy to go to a winning program and you have big names and say, ‘I’ve got three years and I’m outta here.’ Or `I’m going to get my stats.’ But to be around guys who want to change a program…It shows a lot of character and that’s what I wanted to surround myself with.”
Having helped Duke take a major step forward last season, Boone is in position to really elevate the program this season.
Duke won six of its first eight games and, with a 33-30 win over North Carolina on Oct. 20, became bowl eligible. But the Blue Devils lost their final five games, including the Belk Bowl in Charlotte against Cincinnati.
This season, Duke shoots for its first winning record since 1994 and the school’s first-ever time playing in bowls in consecutive seasons.
Neither Boone nor all-ACC cornerback Ross Cockrell hesitated on Sunday when they were asked if Duke could go to a bowl game again this season. Both answered yes emphatically.
When Boone was considering coming to Duke, such talk would have been laughable. Things have certainly challenged.
“People recognize us,” Boone said. “We’re getting a lot more respect. People come up and say they have been Duke fans since there was nobody in the stadium.”
That new-found confidence exists inside the locker room as well as in the fan base.
“Now recruits come in here and their chests are a little more inflated,” Boone said. “They say `I play for Duke and we went to a bowl game last year and we had a good season. I’m part of the culture that’s going to shock the country.’ It’s a big deal for us.”
Still, Duke has more to prove. The Blue Devils lost four seniors starters on offense in quarterback Sean Renfree, center Brian Moore and wide receivers Conner Vernon and Desmond Scott.
On defense, the secondary is gutted with the graduation losses of safeties Walt Canty and Jordon Byas and cornerback Lee Butler in addition to linebacker Austin Gamble.
Like Boone helping the offense overcome its personnel losses, Cockrell will play a major role in how good Duke’s defense will be. He looks up front to the experienced linemen and linebackers and has confidence.
“We’ll be a much better defense than we were last year,” Cockrell said. “We have guys on the defensive front who are going to be a lot older and a lot more experienced that should lead our defense this year. That will transition into stopping people.”
Boone likes the experience on the team as well. He also said it’s key that the players who have played have also experienced success.
“It’s the hunger we have as a team,” Boone said. “We have I don’t know how many redshirt seniors, redshirt juniors, redshirt sophomores. We are very experienced. Guys that have got a taste of winning games. It’s like once you get a taste you want more. We want more wins. We are hungry.”