Cutcliffe touts recruits' speed

Duke coach believes program is on fast track to success

Staff WriterFebruary 6, 2009 

— Waving a white towel, David Cutcliffe bounced toward the podium before Wednesday's football news conference.

"Crazy Towel Coach!" Duke's football coach quipped while offering an imitation of Blue Devils basketball fan Herb Neubauer, the excitable "Crazy Towel Guy" who revs up crowds at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Cutcliffe, the ebullient second-year Blue Devils coach, was equally excited about the 27 prospects in this year's recruiting class.

That Scout.com ranked the Blue Devils' signees 10th among the 12 ACC classes did not deter Cutcliffe, who said: "It's a great start for the 2009 year."

The Blue Devils were a faster and better team in Cutcliffe's first season last fall. But the veteran coach wants more speed, an element he says this class delivers.

"This field,'' he said, referring to Wallace Wade Stadium, "will see more speed than in a long time, maybe ever, when these guys establish themselves. It remains to be seen. But we know they can run.

"That is the biggest deficit we faced overall on both sides when you compare us to the rest of the league. It's something we knew we had to address quickly."

Signing Desmond Scott, a SuperPrep All-America running back from Durham Hillside, gives Duke a game-breaking player who could boost the program to another level, said Miller Safrit, a regional recruiting analyst for Scout.com. The Blue Devils also earned commitments from wide-receiver prospects with the speed to get behind safeties and push opposing cornerbacks to respect the passing game, Safrit added.

"Something lacking before were sheer athletes," Safrit said. "That's what they have in this class."

The Blue Devils assembled a balanced unit of backs, linemen and linebackers. That was a function of many people, including the fans at Wallace Wade Stadium, Cutcliffe said.

"It is significant in recruiting,'' said Cutcliffe, who generated extra fanfare with preseason hype. "People forget how many [prospects] came to games, felt and sensed the enthusiasm surrounding Duke football."

On the field, the Blue Devils won four games in 2008, a significant improvement from previous seasons, and they were much more competitive overall. As a result, Cutcliffe said, "you would be shocked" at the reception Duke's staff got in high schools and communities in North Carolina and around the country.

"I was in central Florida, and somebody said, 'Hey man, you all are back. It's fun to watch you all play.' I was in New Jersey, Detroit, California. People are very aware of Duke football," Cutcliffe said. "I owe [basketball coach] Mike Krzyzewski a great thanks. He makes everybody in the sports world very aware of Duke. That helps when you walk in any high school."

Cutcliffe also made significant strides in North Carolina, signing Scott and eight other in-state recruits. That home-grown trend is one he intends to enhance. Already, he has his eye on area players who will graduate in 2010 and 2011.

Cutcliffe pointed out studies showing the top 10 programs in the country do the best recruiting within a 200-mile radius of their campuses.

Duke received lots of early commitments this year, and four of the players -- linebacker Kevin Rojas, tight end Ryan Hall, defensive back Zach Greene and defensive end Sydney Sarmiento -- have enrolled already.

That enables them to participate in winter conditioning and compete in spring practice, which Cutcliffe calls a "huge" advantage.

aj.carr@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8948

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