Shaun Wilson had to walk over to DeVon Edwards to celebrate Saturday’s win at Notre Dame, because Edwards couldn’t really come to him. The explosive Duke safety and return specialist was propped on crutches, his left knee immobilized, his season and Duke career almost certainly over.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe confirmed Sunday that Edwards would require season-ending surgery for a torn ACL and MCL in the left knee after an MRI exam Sunday. A fifth-year senior, Edwards is not eligible for a sixth year, which means he has played his last game for Duke.
The Blue Devils’ ability to make up for Edwards’ absence – he was injured on his first kickoff return of the day, after Notre Dame scored on its opening drive – was absolutely critical to their 38-35 win at Notre Dame on Saturday. Not only did Wilson return a kickoff for a touchdown after Notre Dame took an early 14-0 lead, reviving the staggering Blue Devils, but several players filled in at safety on a day Duke’s secondary forced two of Notre Dame’s three turnovers and stopped the Irish with the game on the line.
Still, there’s no minimizing the loss of Edwards, an all-ACC defensive back and All-America returner one short of the ACC and NCAA record for kickoff return touchdowns. The fifth-year senior is vital to Duke both as a player and a leader, as exemplified by his role rallying Duke in practice ahead of the Notre Dame game after disheartening losses to Wake Forest and Northwestern.
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“I think it goes back to last Sunday, last Tuesday, and how we responded to a loss to Northwestern,” Cutcliffe said. “How DeVon responded as a captain, standing up in front of our team on Sunday. … I think if we hadn’t have been as prepared, and DeVon had a big part to do with that, we wouldn’t have been able to respond. But I believe in my heart we have the right kind of people and that’s what you do when you’re the right kind of people.”
It was very tough, but if one goes down, the next one has to step up.
Already down one captain with quarterback Thomas Sirk out for the season – redshirt freshman Daniel Jones had his best outing yet Saturday, going 24-for-32 passing for 291 yards and three touchdowns with only one interception – the Blue Devils will now have to regroup in the secondary as well. Alonzo Saxton and Jordan Hayes both saw extensive action, and Duke’s coaching staff will have some work to do ahead of next weekend’s home game against Virginia.
“It was very tough, but if one goes down, the next one has to step up,” cornerback Breon Borders said. “I thought Zo (Saxton), he came in and made a lot of big plays. … DeVon went down, and we came in at halftime, and I told him, ‘We got your back.’ And we do.”
Still, if Edwards’ Duke career is indeed over, it has been a magnificent one, essential to the program’s continuing progress under Cutcliffe, a massive part of Duke’s appearance in the 2013 ACC championship game and, last December, its first bowl win in 54 years. Not only is he one of two returning all-Americans and Academic all-Americans (along with Stanford’s Christian McCaffery), he was one of 11 players nationally named to the Allstate Good Works Team. His six kickoff-return TDs are more than any ACC team has during his career.
“I’m going to say this, because I’m emotional about it, DeVon Edwards and Thomas Sirk are two as good people, I’m not talking about young men or players, I’m not categorizing them, they’re two as good people that I have ever known in my entire life,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m proud that they’re in my life. That’s how I feel.”
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock