Bonding with the Blue Devils

Duke players spend family time together as they prepare for bowl

lkeeley@newsobserver.comDecember 21, 2012 

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Duke linebacker coach Jim Collins (right) walks with head coach David Cutcliffe during practice Thursday Dec. 20, 2012. Just two days after his wife, Geri, lost her fight with cancer, Collins was back on the practice field.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com

— There are benefits that come with going to bowls.

The most obvious is the extra practice time, something Duke has used to prepare for Cincinnati but also to look ahead to 2013.

The other benefits, though, are less easy to spot and a bit more intangible.

“There’s no school, we’re all basically eating every meal together, you’re spending real quality time off the field with the players,” coach David Cutcliffe said after practice Thursday. “We’ve laughed, we’ve cut up, we’ve lived like a family. That in itself has been special.”

For one member of the Duke football family, it has brought tremendous relief. Two days after his wife, Geri, lost her fight with cancer, linebackers coach Jim Collins was back on the practice field.

“I think that was good therapy, when you get in there as a coach and you start teaching and you’re reviewing the practice tape,” Cutcliffe said. “He actually told me that it’s the best he’s felt, when he was in there with those linebackers.

“And then he came out here. That’s doing what he and Geri both loved about this, and that’s practice. We were glad to see him back out.”

Collins has coached at Duke three times under three coaches. He was a graduate assistant under Steve Sloan during 1983 and came back in 1985-89 to work under Sloan and Steve Spurrier. During the 1989 season – Duke’s most recent ACC championship – Collins served as Spurrier’s co-defensive coordinator.

Through the years, Geri was at practice, too, serving as the team photographer. It was a role she continued until this year, posting pictures on Facebook and tagging the players so they could share them with friends. She was 60 years old when she died Tuesday and is survived by Jim and their daughter, Jennifer.

The Blue Devils will attend her public memorial service at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Duke Chapel as a team. After that, they will depart for Charlotte, where the Belk Bowl awaits them Thursday.

“It’s wonderful,” senior Desmond Scott said of the chance to play one more game. “Like I was telling people earlier, this cold air let’s you know that you are alive. To still play football this late in December is a blessing.”

Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley

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