David Cutcliffe:”Best is yet to come” for LB Brandon Hill
Clemson’s “Tiger Rag” fight song blared throughout Duke’s Pascal Field House indoor practice facility over and over and over this week.
As the rhythmic spelling of C-L-E-M-S-O-N followed the “hold that tiger” lyrics, Lummie Young admitted it was hard to resist childhood habits to join in.
“I’ve got to keep myself from singing along with it,” the Duke redshirt safety said with a laugh. “A couple of times I had to catch myself.”
Young, who grew up a Clemson fan in Anderson, S.C., played football at Westside High School, about 16 miles from Clemson Memorial Stadium. He’ll be in the Blue Devils’ starting lineup against the Tigers on Saturday.
“It’s kind of like a surreal moment playing in Death Valley,” Young said. “I grew up loving Clemson. Playing in front of all my family and friends is going to be an awesome experience. I really can’t wait.”
Young said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables recruited him but Clemson didn’t offer him a scholarship.
Young’s Duke teammate, linebacker Brandon Hill, had a different recruiting experience with the powerhouse Tigers.
Clemson was his second scholarship offer when he was a prep standout at Columbia’s Heathwood Hall Episcopal School. But Hill, a Duke redshirt sophomore who started his first collegiate game against UNC on Nov. 10, picked the Blue Devils over the home-state option.
“A great school,” Hill said of Clemson. “I considered them heavily but at the end of the day, I wanted the education and football on top of that.”
Both Young and Hill will be key figures as Duke (7-3, 3-3 ACC) tries to upset No. 2 Clemson (10-0, 7-0). After starting the season as reserves, both have moved into starting jobs due to injuries.
Young will start in place of safety Dylan Singleton, who fractured his ankle in the Blue Devils’ 42-35 win over UNC on Nov. 10.
Duke’s second-leading tackler, Singleton started Duke’s first 10 games before his injury. Hill has been starting in place of All-ACC linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, Duke’s leading tackler who started the Blue Devils’ first nine games before suffering a sprained knee ligament during a 20-12 win at Miami on Nov. 3.
Singleton had surgery on Sunday and Cutcliffe doesn’t expect him to play again this season. Giles-Harris has yet to be ruled out for Clemson but Hill is taking his practice repetitions with the first-team defense.
Young said the recruiting process didn’t cause him to lose respect for Clemson or the coaches that recruited him -- Venables and cornerbacks coach Mike Reed.
“I think they wanted a safety that could play a corner position as well,” Young said. “I love those guys. They are great people and awesome coaches. I have great respect for them.”
At the same time, he’s eager to show them what they’ve missed.
“It kind of puts a little chip on my shoulder,” Young said. “I’m trying to view this as any other game but it’s kind of like a revenge, get-back game. I’m trying to not put too much pressure on myself and just do what I’ve got to do to help the team.”
‘I came in a little nervous’
Duke’s defense struggled in the first half against UNC this past Saturday, allowing touchdown drives on four of UNC’s first six possessions. The Tar Heels had 272 yards rushing in the first half.
“It was a huge adjustment in my first start,” Hill said. “I came in a little nervous. But I settled in, got comfortable with our defense and running what we did. The second half came along and we all were comfortable, all were playing well and it showed.”
UNC scored just one touchdown after halftime and was held to 43 rushing yards.
“We had to calm ourselves down and play our brand of football,” Young said. “Devil pace. Devil football. We were able to do that and get the win.”
Cutcliffe admitted Hill’s second half play was better than his first half but said that’s to be expected for a young player.
“Brandon is getting better,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s an interesting thing. Until you play a lot it’s hard to get better sometimes, particularly for certain people. Brandon falls into that category so I think the best is yet to come.”
Hill was a four-star recruit out of high school. In addition to Clemson, Tennessee and Notre Dame offered him scholarships.
His father, Dr. Michael Hill, is a surgeon who practices in Orangeburg, S.C. Brandon Hill began attending Heathwood Hall, a private school 40 miles away in Columbia, in first grade.
Education was that much of a priority for Dr. Hill and his wife, Alesia.
Gabe Brandner, a Duke starting offensive tackle who finished his career last year, also graduated from Heathwood Hall and helped sell Hill on Duke and its improved football program.
His recruitment to Duke, Cutcliffe said, fell into place. Hill committed as a junior in January 2015 before signing in February 2016.
“We had developed already a great deal of trust,” Cutcliffe said. “That was not a kind of a loose-fitting relationship. It was a very good relationship. Very tight. Brandon made the right decision. This is a perfect environment for him.”
Duke feels like home
Young is part of Duke’s defensive secondary that’s been beset with injuries. All-ACC cornerback Mark Gilbert dislocated his hip in early September. Sophomore Michael Carter moved from safety to starting cornerback. He sprained his knee at Baylor on Sept. 15 and missed the next two games. He started against UNC but was limited in the second half.
Singleton’s injury further cuts into Duke’s depth.
That means Young and his classmate, redshirt freshman Josh Blackwell, are playing more prominent roles. Another redshirt freshman, Leonard Johnson, has started seven games at safety this season.
“We work different combinations,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s been different every week. Right now Lummie will start where Dylan has started. But we have various combinations we believe we are going to have to play, particularly at the safety positions.”
Cutcliffe and co-defensive coordinator Matt Guerrieri, who coaches the safeties, will determine starters for Clemson by who earns the job in practice this week.
As he prepares to head home this weekend for a massive challenge against Clemson, Young is doing all he can to stay in the starting lineup for the school he now considers his home as well.
“I was looking for a school that had the right family atmosphere, a place I could get the best of both worlds in football and academics,” Young said. “Coach Cut was showing me that this is the place for me. The family atmosphere, all the coaches. I just love it here. I love the guys here. It felt like home.”
Duke at Clemson
When: 7 p.m., Saturday
Where: Clemson Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC