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Duke growing into winning football program

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Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2013 11:15 pm

In the second quarter of Duke’s 28-14 win over Memphis on Sept. 7, Blue Devil quarterback Anthony Boone broke his collarbone, forcing him to the sideline indefinitely.

During his rehab period, Boone’s inbox soon began to fill with simple messages such as “Get healthy” or “Take care.”

When Boone made a surprise return in last week’s 35-7 rout of Navy, his inbox continued to crowd with simple messages such as “Congratulations” or “Great win.”

These were fans directly showing their appreciation to the Duke quarterback. Not the point guard.

Heading into Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game at Virginia, the Blue Devils are 4-2. With two more wins, Duke will qualify for a bowl game for the second consecutive season. Such back-to-back success has never happened in program history.

The turnaround has been noticed.

“There’s a lot more hype around the football team,” Boone said, “and it’s awesome.”

Yes, Duke football and “awesome.”

In head coach David Cutcliffe’s first four seasons, the Blue Devils never finished with more than five wins. In 2009, they got to 5-3 after beating UVa, 28-17, on Oct. 31 in Scott Stadium. With four games remaining, Duke needed just one more victory to become bowl eligible for the first time in 15 years.

But it never happened. In fact, the Blue Devils lost those four contests by an average score of 37-17.

In February 2010, Boone, a three-star prospect out of Matthews, N.C., who had offers from the likes of Illinois, Louisville and East Carolina, signed his National Letter of Intent to Duke.

A year later, Jamison Crowder, a three-star receiver out of Monroe, N.C., who had offers from the likes of North Carolina, Illinois and Wake Forest, inked his future to the Blue Devils.

In 2012, Boone, mostly in a backup role behind eventual NFL Draft pick Sean Renfree, played in 12 games, scored the winning touchdown against Wake Forest and won his only start by tossing four scores against the Cavaliers on Oct. 6.

Crowder caught 76 passes for 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns.

Together, they were a part of a breakthrough 6-6 regular season that landed Duke in the Belk Bowl, its first postseason appearance since 1994.

This year’s fast start can be attributed to last year’s rare success.

“That’s 100 percent why I came here,” Boone said. “I wanted to come here and change the tradition. It’s kind of developing in front of my eyes and it’s kind of a dream come true.

“I want to continue to do what I can do to help Coach Cut. It’s a process, but it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of this. We’re really enjoying it.”

Crowder, a junior, is the ACC’s leader in receiving yards with 618.

“It feels good,” Crowder said. “Coming out of high school, a lot of guys want to go to teams that are already established and everything. I had offers from schools of that caliber, but Coach Cutcliffe, he was a guy that came in and I always bought into what he was going to do with this program.

“It feels great to be part of a program that’s definitely growing in the football area.”

After the Blue Devils blew past the Wahoos, 42-17, last season to bring their record to 5-1, they would win just once more.

Duke got to 6-2, but ended 6-7.

Finally with some experience in handing such situations, Duke has new goals in 2013.

“Last year, we got off to a real strong start and we weren’t able to finish,” Crowder said. “This year, it’s kind of shaking out to be the same. We’re off to a 4-2 start. Now, we’re kind of in the middle of the road where we have to grind things out.

“We definitely want to continue to get stronger as a team and hopefully this year, we can finish out the season and hopefully go to a bowl game and win a bowl game.”

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