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Lack of respect doesn’t surprise or faze Duke football

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/20/20/54/YbEYz.Em.138.jpeg|371
    Chuck Burton - AP
    Duke's Laken Tomlinson answers a question during Sunday’s ACC Football kickoff in Greensboro.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/21/00/39/hPeZi.Em.138.JPG|215
    Chuck Burton - AP
    Duke's Kelby Brown answers a question Sunday in Greensboro.

GREENSBORO The defending Coastal Division champions, who went 10-2 in the regular season last year and return 15 starters for this campaign, are not expected to be selected to repeat this season.

The two Duke football players at Sunday’s ACC media day – right guard Laken Tomlinson and linebacker Kelby Brown – repeatedly were asked why this was so.

“What they see, I believe, is our tradition,” Tomlinson said. “And obviously, traditionally Duke football has not been a powerhouse.”

There’s no disputing that, as the Blue Devils have a 41-126 record (.246 winning percentage) this century and were predicted to finish last in 13 of those 14 seasons. And last year was their first winning season in 19 years. But still – doesn’t the group returning with last year’s accomplishments in hand count for anything?

“Obviously if you have those Alabamas and Florida States, the schools that have the tradition, yes, they would expect more because they have more consistency,” Tomlinson said. “But coming from a school like Duke University, I mean, obviously, based off of our history, they wouldn’t expect much, or they would think that what we had last season was a fluke. But it’s our job to go out there and prove them wrong, yet again.”

So the Blue Devils get it. They still don’t have the respect on a national level. But the upperclassmen are used to playing the underdog role – none of them were heralded recruits out of high school, and the redshirt seniors experienced two 3-9 season before the breakthrough 6-7 campaign of 2012 and last year’s 10-win high-water mark. They believed in head coach David Cutcliffe’s recruiting pitch to them when he didn’t have tangible evidence to support his claims that Duke could be competitive in the ACC.

What’s it going to take for Duke not to be considered a fluke and for people to automatically assume that you will get eight, nine, 10 wins? That question was posed to Tomlinson.

“Going out and getting eight, nine, 10 wins,” he said.

To aid that pursuit, Duke returns starting quarterback Anthony Boone, its best receiver (Jamison Crowder), tight end (Braxton Deaver) and a stable of running backs headlined by Shaquille Powell and Josh Snead. The biggest loss is do-everything backup quarterback Brandon Connette, who was responsible for a school-record 27 touchdowns in 2013 (13 in the air and 14 on the ground). That’s a manageable loss, Tomlinson said, with his production being replaced by a committee of other skill players.

The defense has nearly an entirely new front, with only defensive tackle Jamal Bruce returning. The three new starters, though, are all upperclassmen with ample experience as backups (Carlos Wray, Dezmond Johnson and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo). The linebackers, a strength, are back, and the secondary will replace Ross Cockrell with more playing time for their promising rising sophomores (Bryon Fields and Breon Borders).

“We did it last year. So, that’s evidence in itself that we can do it this year,” Brown said.

As for the lack of respect …

“As long as our fan base is excited about the season, that’s what is important,” Brown said. “How the rest of the country feels about us, hey, it’s a fresh season, we’ve got to prove ourselves all over again.”

Twitter: @laurakeeley
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