Matt Daniels: I've picked up some weight. I'm now around 202 pounds, whereas last season I was at 193. I'm starting to also get more comfortable with understanding the defense. I can recognize the routes receivers are running, where the holes are going to open up, and that kind of thing. I've done a lot of film study and learned how to watch for things.
One thing that is apparent in these preseason interviews is that there is no real "off-season" for Duke Football players anymore.
Definitely not. We never take a break. We are always out here working hard - lifting, or playing seven on seven drills. We're always working to achieve our goals.
You mentioned goals. What were some of your personal goals for the time between last year and this year?
I want to understand the defense completely. I want to not only know what I am supposed to do, but what everyone else has to do as well. That way if someone needs to be reminded of their responsibilities, I will know how to help them out.
Throughout the recruiting process, being a vocal supporter of the program was almost your calling card. As a second year player, do you find yourself starting to become a vocal leader?
I am definitely trying to assume that role. I'm coaching up some of the younger guys and taking them under my wing as best I can. I'm working with Walt Canty a lot right now. We do the conditioning, but I also work with him in the film room - showing him what he needs to look for.
Getting back to the training routines, we always hear about how intense they are. Anything in particular stick out in your mind?
One time we were working out and two freshmen showed up late as role was being called. All of a sudden we were loosening up and Coach Cutcliffe just comes out of the woods. He came out of nowhere - and we had no idea that he was even there. He was like a bear, just running out and going nuts on these guys. Sent them back to the locker room and stayed fired up long after they were gone.
Getting back to the team...how do you see yourself fitting in this season?
We definitely don't have a lot of experience at safety. We have a lot of talent, but aside from Catron [Gainey], I've got the most experience. So we, as a group, need to step it up and be leaders back there. We need to do the little things that make the difference.
You mentioned watching film and how it's more study than just watching. What's the difference between watching film in high school and at this level?
You have to focus in on the small things. Things like how the defensive line is lining up. What stance the wide receivers are in. If the offense is going to run a bootleg, the linemen will sometimes turn their backs to you a little bit. You learn to read these little things to get a better idea of what's going to happen.
Touching back on experience, you guys obviously lost some key players. Who are you going to miss the most?
Definitely Mike. The guy was an All-American and he was our vocal leader. Whenever we were tired or down, he was in the huddle firing us up and then he'd go make a big play. When we were tired, we looked to him.
So who fills that role this year?
Vinney Rey. He was really vocal last year, and his energy is infectious. He's always excited to be on the field. Whenever he's playing, he's excited out there. He's like a lion in the middle of the field. We all feed off him.
What was the biggest lesson you had to learn as a freshman?
To run to the ball no matter what. Even if you don't think you will make a play, you have to finish every play out. At this level things can happen really fast, so you have to run to the play and when the ball comes to you, make sure you are trying to strip it.
Best memory from your first year of college football?
Definitely the interception against Virginia Tech. I actually got hurt on that play, but I was so excited to have made my first college interception.
If you could change one thing from your first year?
I would get rid of my laziness?
Laziness? Didn't think you had a reputation for being lazy?
I wasn't living up to my potential. I wasn't getting after it on every play in practice. In high school I was never a really big practice player. It was a bad habit, but my positional coach and Coach Cutcliffe really worked with me to make sure I worked hard every time so that I can reach my potential.
Sounds like this staff is pretty good at addressing such things.
Oh, they are. They push everyone to be the best they can be. They don't let anyone shortchange themselves or the team.
So aside from being a demanding football coach, what's a non-football related story you can share about Coach Cutcliffe?
He's got so many stories. He's always telling us things. For instance, one of his friends had just bought a new car. It had a voice activation system, so he could drive around talking to it. He could say "play rock music" and it would play rock music. He could say "play rap" and it would play rap music. So the guy asked Coach Cut to come test drive it with him. They were driving around and some guy cut his friend off. Coach's friend yells "you son of a ...." and the car goes "calling David Cutcliffe"
Last question. You were a spokesperson throughout the recruiting process. Now, that you've lived a year in the Duke Football program, what's the best thing about it?
The coaches, the facilities, and the education are as good as anywhere in the country. But it's also the relationships we all have. With the coaches, with your teammates, and with people you don't see a lot of - the doctors, the trainers, the academic people. It's like a big family around here. We're all looking out for one another. With the team there are no positional groups that hang out exclusively. We're all a team. I am really good friends with Sean Renfree - which is something you don't usually see -- a quarterback and a safety hanging out. But that's the way things are here. Like I said, we're a big family and it's a great 'Duke Community'.