Duke football: Deaver overcomes injuries, finds end zone

lkeeley@newsobserver.comSeptember 5, 2013 

Duke tight end Braxton Deaver (89) is surrounded by teammates after scoring a touchdown against N.C. Central at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com

— Last year was hard, Duke tight end Braxton Deaver can say now, physically and mentally. Having three major surgeries in six months – his left ACL in January 2012, left thumb in June and left kneecap in July – wore on his body. Sitting on the sideline as a redshirt sophomore, watching someone else start in his spot, wore on his mind.

Now, finally, the Charlotte Providence High grad is healthy and back on the field. Deaver, who has ideal size at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, made an immediate impact in Duke’s opener, catching three passes and scoring the game’s first touchdown.

“He’s been challenged,” quarterback Anthony Boone said. “He’s at a point now where he’s just like, ‘I’m going to go out there and play the game, and whatever happens, happens.’ He’s really into the, ‘God put me in this place, he brought me some difficult challenges, and I’ve gotten through them.’ Now it’s just going out there, pretending like nothing ever happened, and playing football.”

In addition to being Deaver’s quarterback and roommate, Boone is one of his childhood friends. They met in sixth grade at Weddington Middle School, where Boone was the quarterback and Deaver his backup. The competition ended in seventh grade when Deaver broke his collarbone and moved to receiver, becoming Boone’s No. 1 target the next year.

The two went their separate ways in high school – Boone to Weddington High and Deaver to Providence, where he met Brandon Braxton, a senior receiver for the Blue Devils who also currently lives with the pair. Deaver and Boone kept in touch, exchanging trash talk before games, and when Boone committed to Duke in November 2008 as a junior, he immediately began to recruit Braxton and Deaver.

“We’re like brothers, honestly,” said Boone, who works around his roommates’ shared name by calling them “Deavo” and “BB.” “When we go home, one person drives and just drops the others off. It’s a great system, it works really well.”

Boone and Braxton were essential members of Deaver’s support system last year. Braxton dropped everything to go to Deaver’s July 2012 surgery after, according to Braxton, Deaver “snapped his kneecap in half.” He and Boone took care of Deaver afterward, when his leg was immobilized and his left arm was in a cast, the result of a freak accident that June.

“I literally walked upstairs into our agility room, and Anthony Boone threw me a ball, and it hit me literally right on the top of my thumb, and it popped,” Deaver said. “It made a noise and I said, ‘Ah, my thumb’s broken.’”

Boone and Braxton kept Deaver’s spirits up by tending to his every need.

“He really enjoyed being able to sit back and have us bring him stuff and cater to him for about a week before we found him a girlfriend,” Boone said. “She finally took care of him, and we got relief from that job.”

The jokes and Animal Planet marathons were frequent, and all the while, Deaver rehabbed diligently. Last November, Braxton joined him in the training room as he recovered from his own injuries. The time off the field lent itself to deep thinking and life reflections, Braxton said.

“It was hard on him a year ago just watching. He was anguishing over not being out there,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said of Deaver. “He’s a very emotional, passionate person, and our team likes that about him.

“Everybody knows the term, he’s got the injury bug or he’s injury-plagued,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s fought through that well. You can’t believe like that, there is no such thing. I’ve heard coaches say, ‘Well, he’s got brittle bones,’ or ‘He’s got this’ or ‘He’s got that.’ Sometimes you’re just not very fortunate, and that’s what it’s been.”

Deaver said he felt 100 percent for the first time right before spring practice. He has natural chemistry with Boone and he was more than ready to get on the field last weekend for his first game action since 2011.

“The first drive was definitely an eye-opener,” Deaver said. “It was hot out there, so it was definitely getting used to that.”

By the time Duke started its second drive, Deaver felt more comfortable and caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Connette. That took the weight off his shoulders, Deaver said.

The offense as a whole can be more physical, Cutcliffe said, and hold blocks longer. That’s about all he has to worry about with Deaver, as Cutcliffe knows he’ll fit into the passing game just fine.

“Anthony had been throwing the ball to Braxton Deaver since they were this tall,” Cutcliffe said, holding his hand even with his waist. “He has a great deal of confidence in Braxton for a good reason.”

Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley

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