For the first time in three years, there was a different starting quarterback for Duke’s first practice of the season Monday night, Anthony Boone taking over for Sean Renfree. The two are different players in many ways, most notably Boone being shorter, stockier, more athletic.
Boone is also black. Renfree is white. There was a time, not too long ago, when that might have been a big deal. Now it’s only worth mentioning because it’s hardly worth noticing, part of a larger trend both in the ACC and across football at every level.
The ACC, which at one point wasn’t exactly the most progressive of college conferences when it came to race, has become legitimately color-blind when it comes to quarterbacking. Black quarterbacks have gone from rarity to full majority in the league.
“The game is evolving, and you can see it making its way into the NFL with guys like Russell Wilson and (Robert Griffin III),” Boone said Monday. “It’s one of those things where it’s going to take a while to fully take over, but it’s headed that direction.”
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Of the league’s 14 schools, eight have a black QB in the No. 1 spot on the depth chart going into training camp. That includes the league’s reigning player of the year and preseason pick to repeat, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd. It includes potential ACC freshman of the year Jameis Winston at Florida State. It includes Durham Hillside product Vad Lee at Georgia Tech.
That number could yet get to nine depending on what happens at N.C. State, and it comes on the heels of Russell Wilson’s remarkable success in the NFL and E.J. Manuel becoming the first quarterback picked in April’s NFL Draft.
The ACC has come a long way since Freddie Summers started for Wake Forest in 1967, since Homer Jordan led Clemson to a national title in 1981. From Charlie Ward to Philip Rivers, Aaron Brooks to Matt Ryan, and on to Wilson and Manuel, ACC quarterbacks have flourished regardless of race. As barriers continue to fall across the football world, from Pop Warner to the NFL, the ACC’s current quarterbacking roster reflects that.
The prejudices that once segregated the position have evaporated, as has the novelty, the “How long have you been a black quarterback?” nonsense. Boone is a great example, the son of a Michigan State running back who started out in that position as a kid before a middle school coach noticed how well he could fling the ball.
Duke recruited him not for his running ability, which the Blue Devils will nevertheless showcase this season in an offense modified from that installed for the pocket-passing Renfree, but for the same reasons Duke coach David Cutcliffe recruits all of his quarterbacks.
The No. 1 attribute is accuracy, what Cutcliffe calls “command of the ball.” No. 2 is decisiveness. “If you sit down with him and he can’t decide what he wants off a menu,” Cutcliffe said, “he won’t play quarterback for me.”
In his time at Tennessee, Mississippi and Duke, Cutcliffe has coached and recruited all kinds of quarterbacks that cross those obsolete boundaries, from white scramblers (Heath Shuler) to black pocket passers (Thad Lewis, who he inherited from Ted Roof). All were recruited and promoted up the depth chart, Boone and Renfree included, for their accuracy and decisiveness above all else. And quarterback isn’t the only position where the old blinkers are falling off.
“You see more white safeties, more white running backs or white receivers,” Boone said. “The game is evolving, the type of athletes that are needed. It’s not really a race thing. If you go out there and you fill that position, that’s kind of what happens.”