DURHAM — Anthony Boone’s debut as a starting quarterback didn’t exactly go as planned.
As he ran out of the tunnel, Boone turned to his left and looked into the stands. The next thing he knew, he tripped and fell, rolling onto his back as his teammates remained upright.
“Honestly, I don’t even remember what happened,” Boone said a few days afterward. “I was doing the same thing I normally do, running out the tunnel, and I just tripped. It was funny. I can laugh about it now.”
So can his teammates and coaches.
“I’m glad I didn’t see it happen initially,” offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said. “I can say that.”
The shaky footwork on his entrance was arguably the biggest mistake Boone made all day. He tied a Duke record for most touchdowns in a debut with four and went 18-for-31 for 212 yards with no turnovers as Duke rolled over Virginia 42-17.
While Boone likely will not start Saturday against Virginia Tech, as quarterback Sean Renfree has been practicing and is listed as probable, coach David Cutcliffe said Boone will play.
“It feels good that I got a chance to go out there and compete and perform at a high level, a lot better than I thought I would do,” Boone said. “Obviously I thought I would do well, but not as good as I did. It definitely felt good. It was great.”
It was also a relief. After hugging his mother, Jenice, he exhaled when he saw his father after the game.
“He’s been very anxious and excited about playing college football,” said Anthony Sr., who attends every home game and will travel to Blacksburg. “I watched him, and, from that first snap, I could tell that he was totally focused, he was in there, and he finally got a chance to really enjoy what he wants to do.”
The wait for his chance was not easy.
As a four-year starter at Weddington High School in Monroe, Boone had never been a backup until he came to Duke. The transition wasn’t smooth.
“He had never had to experience sitting and waiting, and his freshman year, when he was redshirting, he didn’t understand the redshirt procedure, it was really tough mentally for him to sit on the sideline and be a backup,” Anthony Sr. said.
With any hope of playing gone, Boone struggled to pay attention in Roper’s daily quarterback meetings (“I spend a lot more time with those guys than I do my wife,” Roper joked). Sometimes it was a struggle just to arrive on time. Staying awake, though, was the toughest.
“I used to get yelled at in meetings,” said Boone, now far enough removed from the time to laugh. “One time, I was literally right in front of coach Roper’s face, and I was dead asleep. And he came next to me and slammed his hand on the table. He said, ’you need to find a way to stay awake in my meetings.’ From that point, I was like, ’all right, I guess I’ve got to find a way to stay awake because he was pretty upset about it.”
Roper’s frustrations with Boone extended to the field that year, where the young quarterback, who had also grown up playing baseball, struggled to change his throwing motion. But over time, Boone started to embrace Roper’s system. He survived his redshirt year and found it easier to pay attention as he started seeing playing time. Last spring, Boone made a serious commitment to film study, learning how to watch and digest the footage effectively from Roper and Renfree.
“You kind of have to check your commitment level,” Boone said. “You’ve got to buy into the film part of football instead of just the field part.”
It’s the mental part of the game that Roper, who followed Cutcliffe from Tennessee to Ole Miss to be his quarterbacks coach, stresses most to his group.
“It’s not plays, there’s a million plays out there, but its learning how to play the position within the game,” Roper said. “Can you apply decision making to down and distance, can you apply decision making to field position, score in the game, all those factors that play in. Can you apply a good decision based on what is going on in the game and then the ability to focus for however long a game is lasting now, 3 1/2 hours, and not ride the emotions of the game. That gives you a chance to be successful playing quarterback.
Boone and Renfree are back to splitting reps in practice. The backup takes at least 40 percent of them every week. All practices are designed to mimic games – to that point, Boone said last Saturday felt like another practice, as the scout team defense had accurately simulated Virginia’s look.
Renfree has been supportive, Boone said. All of the quarterbacks, including Brandon Connette and Thomas Sirk, are close, and they rotate hosting a weekly Monday breakfast in addition to the time they spend together daily in meetings. Part of the breakfast tradition includes trading barbs, which Boone undoubtedly received this week after that trip onto the field.
Boone is fine with that, though, he said. Jokes are always easier to take when they are accompanied by wins.