Shaun Wilson has the speed, the elusiveness, the ability to run away from people.
Jela Duncan has more power, some thump in his game.
“And you have to add Joe in there, too,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said.
That would be redshirt junior Joseph Ajeigbe, another of the Blue Devils’ all-purpose running backs.
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But it’s Wilson and Duncan, both from Charlotte, who again could combine to be a good complement for quarterback Thomas Sirk, another running threat.
Duke is one of five ACC schools that have two running backs with more than 1,000 career rushing yards. The others: Clemson, Boston College, Pittsburgh and North Carolina.
At UNC, Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan each have more than 1,500 yards. Duncan has 1,575 yards and Wilson 1,022, and Sirk adds another 1,041 yards at QB.
“I think they’re two of the best running backs in the country,” Sirk said of Wilson and Duncan. “Both are explosive backs, so much talent.”
And dependable. Duncan, a redshirt senior, has lost two fumbles in 338 career touches and Wilson, a junior, has lost three in 204 touches his first two years.
Coaches like those kind of numbers and here are a few more: Wilson has averaged 6.31 yards per rushing carry and Duncan 5.45 yards.
“Shaun has got a unique set of skills, with that speed and the quickness,” Cutcliffe said. “Jela and Joe are a little more physical but can run.”
A year ago, the Blue Devils were fifth in the ACC in rushing with 192.9 yards a game and their balanced offense finished third in the league at 439.4 yards a game. That translated to 31.5 points a game.
Duke closed out an 8-5 season with its first bowl win since 1961, beating Indiana 44-41 in overtime in the Pinstripe Bowl. Wilson and Sirk shared the bowl’s MVP honors, and Sirk, Wilson and Duncan each ran for more than 100 yards against the Hoosiers.
I think they’re two of the best running backs in the country. Both are explosive backs, so much talent.
Thomas Sirk on Jela Duncan and Shaun Wilson
Wilson, who played at Charlotte’s West Mecklenburg High, had an 85-yard touchdown burst in the first quarter as Duke jumped to a 10-0 lead, tying a Duke program record for longest run. Then, in the fourth quarter, he went 98 yards on a kickoff return to score.
Some would say that kind of game could be a nice springboard into the 2016 season, but Wilson won’t go that far.
“Something that big, you can’t get complacent,” Wilson said. “You have to keep going and not worry about the past. I haven’t been focusing on the Pinstripe Bowl but focusing on this season. We have big fish to catch this year.”
Asked about personal goals for this season, Wilson said, “Just give the team all I can … when my number is called.”
As a freshman in 2014, Wilson’s No. 29 was called 12 times against Kansas and he responded with a school-record 245 yards and three touchdowns. Oddly, he did not have another 100-yard game until the Pinstripe Bowl, when he had 103.
Duncan did his part in the bowl win with 109 yards on 13 carries as Duke rushed for 373 yards. It was his second career 100-yard game, both last season, as the former Mallard Creek High standout also had a personal-best 115 yards against North Carolina.
Duncan, listed at 5 feet 10 and 215 pounds, continued to be one of the leaders in the offseason workouts, and his 410-pound bench press was the best among the backs.
Wilson, at 5-9, said he played at 179 pounds last season but said he went into fall camp at 188, saying it’s good weight for him.
“I think I’ll be better at pass blocking now, because I’m bigger,” he said. “Running a little stronger, running a little faster.”
Duncan said the only thing missing is a catchy nickname for the backs. Give it time, he said. It’ll come.
“We’ve got a whole stable of running backs,” Duncan said. “We’re like a breed of horses, like thoroughbreds. Maybe you could call us the ‘Thoroughbreds.’ ”