DURHAM — Kenny Anunike has done things in a Duke football uniform that many before him have not. The sixth-year, redshirt senior has led the Blue Devils in sacks the past two seasons – despite missing eight games during the 2011 season because of a season-ending knee injury – played in a bowl game and sacked a future No.1 overall NFL draft pick.
The 6-foot-5, 280-pound defensive end talked about the highs – last season’s bowl appearance, sacking Andrew Luck – and lows – recovering from five surgeries and a knee injury that kept him out over half of a season.
Q: What’s it like to go through a season-ending injury and go through the recovery process?
A: It was tough mentally, physically and emotionally. Trying to battle back after leading the nation and the ACC in sacks (after four games) and then have it all taken away from me in one play. I had to wake up every day and go to rehab while my teammates carried on. I basically became the biggest cheerleader for my team, but wanted to be out there so bad. It definitely humbled me and taught me how to handle adversity.
Q: You’re the last remaining player from David Cutcliffe’s initial recruiting class. How much have you changed as a player under him and how important has he been for you?
A: Coach Cut is the greatest coach I’ve ever played for. I’ll do anything for him because I know he’d do anything for me. It was funny because I was recruited by coach (Ted) Roof, but I never actually met him before I committed. But coach Cut came out to my house to visit me personally just to tell me he was going to honor my commitment and he wanted me to come to Duke. I said from then on, I was going to do whatever for that man.
Q: What was it like to return to the field in 2012 and get that first sack?
A: It was awesome. That was my glory moment because that’s the holy grail for defensive linemen and what we’re all chomping at the bit to get. When I got it, I immediately thanked God, then moved on to the next play. I wanted to get another one and coach said ‘Hey, you’ve got one, now go get me another one.’ I can’t tell you how tough and turbulent a journey it’s been … but moments like that make it worth it.
Q: What was your most memorable sack during your career?
A: That’s easy, it would have to be my first sack. It came against Andrew Luck right here in Wallace Wade Stadium when Stanford came to play us. I sacked him twice that game, but the first one I just took a step back and said, ‘Wow. I just sacked Andrew Luck.’ I was pretty excited about that and it definitely gave me some bragging rights.
Q: How much would you like to do that again?
A: (He laughs.) I knew that question was coming. That’s obviously my goal and I hope that’s in God’s plans for me. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid and hopefully after this ride is over I’ll get that chance. If that’s not your goal at this level, I don’t know why you’re playing.
Q: What has been the biggest change in the Duke football program since you signed six years ago?
A: It’s truly been like night and day. The biggest change is fan support, they’re looking good now. There were days where it felt like we were playing for ourselves because we had nobody in the stands.
Nowadays, we don’t accept losing. We just lost our first game against Georgia Tech and no one is hanging their head. We’re (mad) that we lost, and I remember past Duke teams just accepting that. Nobody is happy with that anymore.
Q: Say you walked into a restaurant with Seth Curry or Mason Plumlee last season. Who’s going to get noticed more?
A: I’d say all three of us would get noticed. Those are my boys and I’ve hung out with them for the last three years, so I know we’d all sit together. We’d definitely have a nice fan club come over and want to sit with us.
Smith: 919-829-8941; Twitter: @RCorySmith