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Duke's David Cutcliffe reverses decision, welcomes kicker/punter Austin Parker back to team

UNC's Jason Strowbridge (55) blocks a field goal attempt by Duke's Austin Parker (42) during the second quarter of an ACC football game between the UNC Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils played at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC, on Sept. 23, 2017. UNC scored on the ensuing drive.
UNC's Jason Strowbridge (55) blocks a field goal attempt by Duke's Austin Parker (42) during the second quarter of an ACC football game between the UNC Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils played at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC, on Sept. 23, 2017. UNC scored on the ensuing drive. cseward@newsobserver.com

When an academic policy violation last fall meant Austin Parker was suspended from Duke for the spring semester, Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe dismissed Parker from the school's football team last December.

Since Parker was Duke's kicker and punter last season, it was a big blow to the Blue Devils.

Cutcliffe, though, reconsidered his decision. After initially saying he wasn't interested in having Parker back on the team, Cutcliffe changed his mind.

Having served his academic suspension so that he can begin summer school classes on Wednesday at Duke, Parker has also been reinstated to the team.

“During this process, Parker has displayed humility and wisdom while, through his actions, regaining our trust,” Cutcliffe said. “This certainly hasn’t been easy, but that’s the way life lessons can be taught. He went through the procedure for re-application to the school and, most importantly, continues his education here at Duke immediately with the first summer school session.”

As a sophomore last season, Parker made 17 of 21 field goals and 33 of 35 extra-point kicks. He also averaged 42.05 yards on his 61 punts. Cutcliffe announced his suspension and dismissal from the football team on Dec. 8.

"I think with Austin coming back everyone is very excited," Duke long snapper Ben Wyatt said. "We were all sad when he was gone."

Senior walk-on William Holmquist handled field goals and extra points in Duke's 36-14 win over Northern Illinois in the Quick Lane Bowl at Detroit on Dec. 26.

Duke exited spring practice with its kicking and punting situation in flux due to Parker's absence. Senior walk-on Collin Wareham was listed as the team's starting kicker and redshirt freshman Jackson Hubbard the team's starting punter.

Since neither player has attempted a kick in a regular season game, that situation would have been less than optimal when Duke opens its season on Sept. 2 against Army.

“We have to solidify that in a big way,” Cutcliffe said of the kicking game during spring practice. “There’s not a clear-cut person who is a starter at kicker or punter out there this spring. I’m extremely excited about what we’re going to teach and where we’re headed.”

Cutcliffe's decision to reinstate Parker shores up the one glaring weakness for the Blue Devils. With eight starters returning on defense and seven on offense from last season's 7-6 team, kicking was a clear area of concern.

Cutcliffe's change of heart with Parker helps fix that.

"The goal this spring was everyone individually growing and getting better," Wyatt said. "We had this collective culture of not being ok with where we are. Everyone wanted to become better. I just want that to continue. It will continue and Austin really steps into that. Austin is a hard worker and he's a great guy. So I'm really excited."

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