Duke

Daniel Jones prepares to start on ‘bigger stage’

Now at quarterback for Duke, Daniel Jones

Daniel Jones will be the first freshman quarterback to start a season opener for Duke since 1997 on Saturday against N.C. Central. He discusses the season-ending injury to Thomas Sirk and accepting the role as the Blue Devils' No. 1 QB.
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Daniel Jones will be the first freshman quarterback to start a season opener for Duke since 1997 on Saturday against N.C. Central. He discusses the season-ending injury to Thomas Sirk and accepting the role as the Blue Devils' No. 1 QB.

Larry McNulty remembers the force of the collision but more importantly the aftermath, and what it told him about his quarterback, Daniel Jones.

It also may give some insight into what Duke fans can expect Saturday, when the Blue Devils begin a new season against N.C. Central with Jones, a 19-year-old redshirt freshman, as the starting QB.

McNulty, Jones’ high school coach at Charlotte Latin, said there was a game a few years ago against Charlotte Christian when Jones was leveled in the pocket by Jeb Blazevich, now a tight end at Georgia.

“Blazevich was a monster, about 6-5 and 240 pounds,” McNulty said. “It was a blindside, full-tilt, hellacious hit. Daniel went about three feet up in the air.

“I didn’t know if he would get up. When he did, his helmet was on sideways and face-mask was cracked. I was thinking he was done and all he said when he got to the sideline was, ‘Get me another helmet.’ Missed one play. Went right back out there. Nothing fazes him.”

That could include starting his first college game. Jones has said all the right things the past few weeks, coming across as calm, humble, grateful for the opportunity.

McNulty said the kids at Latin called Jones “Swag.” He also believes Jones will handle being on what McNulty called the “bigger stage” of college football.

“He was known as ‘Swag’ but not because of an outer overconfidence,” McNulty said. “Daniel has inner toughness, an inner strength, that other athletes pick up on and admire. It’s just the way he carries himself.”

The same is often said of Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk, who had one season wiped out by an Achilles tendon tear and now will miss the 2016 season with another Achilles injury. Sirk’s absence has put Jones into a more meaningful role, at the most vital position on the field.

As Duke coach David Cutcliffe put it, “It’s going to be fast for him. He’s going to have to adapt and play fast.”

The Blue Devils have the runners to keep Central’s defense — and others Duke will face — guessing and honest. Jela Duncan, Shaun Wilson and Joseph Ajeigbe could be used in a rotation, if Cutcliffe wants, and Jones is said to be fast enough to add another threat.

Duke has some experienced receivers in Anthony Nash and T.J. Rahming, and Johnathan Lloyd, who shifted from defensive back to receiver in the spring, had a strong fall camp.

The Blue Devils have two redshirt seniors and two redshirt juniors starting on the offensive line. Zach Baker, a redshirt freshman, will start at left guard.

Zac Roper will have a new work station in Wallace Wade Stadium and new game-day responsibilities. He was named offensive coordinator after Scottie Montgomery left Duke to become East Carolina’s head coach.

“Calling plays is a unique experience,” Cutcliffe said. “But I’ll be there to pitch in.”

Jones was 5-10 and 140 pounds when he played junior varsity football at Latin, and McNulty said he’s was “knocked around like a ping-pong ball but kept getting up.” Jones suffered a broken wrist playing basketball as a junior, McNulty said, keeping him out of summer football camps and limiting his recruiting exposure.

Harvard wanted him, McNulty said. Princeton wanted him. But Jones wanted to play at Duke, for Cutcliffe.

“The stakes are bigger for him now,” McNulty said. “He’s being thrust into the lineup, a ‘newbie’ again, just as he was in high school.

“I’m excited for him and I know he’s excited. I think he’ll step up to the plate.”

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip

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