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Rival schools told Tony Davis Duke was wrong for him. He ultimately decided they were wrong.

Duke’s David Cutcliffe on negative recruiting: “I refuse to do that...We don’t go decommit them”

After Duke landed cornerback Tony Davis, who committed to Duke before reopening his recruitment and considering Tennessee and UNC before returning to the Blue Devils, Duke coach David Cutcliffe railed against negative recruiting practices.
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After Duke landed cornerback Tony Davis, who committed to Duke before reopening his recruitment and considering Tennessee and UNC before returning to the Blue Devils, Duke coach David Cutcliffe railed against negative recruiting practices.

From his commitment on Dec. 9, 2017 to signing his national letter of intent one year and nine days later, Tony Davis always felt Duke was the best place for him to play college football.

During that time, though, others did their best to convince him otherwise.

That’s the recruiting game. Duke got a commitment from Davis, a four-star cornerback from Gastonia’s Hunter Huss High a few weeks after his junior season ended.

“Everybody was trying to figure out what Duke saw and wanted to get in on the Tony Davis sweepstakes,” Hunter Huss coach Jamar McKoy said. When you have a corner that is 6-foot-2, runs a 4.5 40 and can cover like no other, people want part of that because that’s what everyone is looking for.”

North Carolina and Tennessee were the closest schools to completely changing Davis’ mind. He went so far as open his recruitment up again last July 31.

“It felt weird because I didn’t know who to go to,” Davis said. “I was in it by myself. I’d never been involved the recruiting process. It was awkward at first. Once I started to calm down everything came to me.”

A tough game

This part of the recruiting game disgusts Duke coach David Cutcliffe. He’s steadfast that Duke won’t try to change a recruit’s mind once he’s committed. That’s different than most schools.

“Good gosh,” Cutcliffe said. “What these guys go through at the age they go through it, their families have no experience with this. Can you imagine? You make a decision and you’ve got 20 grown men telling you that it’s the wrong decision. That’s why I refuse to do that. We’ve had some guys decommit and we recruited them. But we didn’t go decommit them, if you understand what I’m saying.”

During his 11 seasons at Duke, Cutcliffe has regularly stopped recruiting a player who had committed to Duke and then re-opened his recruitment. He’s said on more than one occasion that if a player decommits, he was never really committed.

But the Davis situation was different, Cutcliffe said. He felt Davis wanted to come to Duke but the negative recruiting from other schools put doubts in his mind.

“People that are professional at it, people that are good at it and you’ve got a 17-year-old hearing all that,” Cutcliffe said. “You talk to Tony. His heart is in the right place. You know he understands the difference in the circumstance and the relationships. So we never wavered. I don’t think he really did.”

The right place for him

Those relationships were the difference, Davis said.

He grew close to current Duke players, like defensive backs Michael Carter, Mark Gilbert, Marquis Waters and wide receiver Dennis Smith over the last year. He stayed in contact with other 2019 Duke commitments like wide receiver Eli Pancol, offensive lineman Jacob Monk from Wendell’s Cornith Holders High and Davis’ future roommate, cornerback Jalen Alexander.

Davis said “communication with coaches and relationships with players” are why Duke was the right place for him in the end.

Tony Davis-2017 Huss.jpg
Tony Davis, Hunter Huss High School. Gaston Gazette

“It was tough on him being a young man and getting all this attention from all over the United States,” McKoy said. “He just wanted to make sure he was making the right decision in committing to Duke. When he backed off his decision, Duke was still at the top of his list. He just kind of wanted to make sure that Duke was the home for him for the next four years. He looked around. Listened to others and eventually he came back and signed with Duke.”

Davis said he talked with Duke cornerbacks coach Derek Jones and Cutcliffe to keep them updated on his feelings during the commitment/decommitment saga.

“I still felt good,” Davis said.

Duke did, too. So, in the end, the Blue Devils are getting a highly-rated cornerback who is graduating high school a semester early. He’s enrolling at Duke next month and will be able to take part in spring practice prior to his freshman season.

“I don’t blame Tony for committing, decommitting and committing again,” McKoy said. “It was his decision. He’s a growing young man. This recruiting game is not a perfect process. His situation was unique to him and I think he made wise decisions.”

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An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.


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