As the 2010 season kicks off in Durham there are several reasons to be excited as a Blue Devil fan. The excitement begins with the players including those finishing up their eligibility this year such as fifth year senior Brett Huffman who spoke to TDD after the team's third practice of the season.
"It's my third and final year under the Cutcliffe regime," said Brett Huffman. "So this is it. This is my last chance. It's now or never. That's the attitude the upperclassmen are going into the season with. We have a lot of seniors both fourth and fifth year. All of us are looking forward to finishing out strong."
When he entered Duke five years ago Huffman, like a lot of his classmates, spoke of turning the program around and entering the post season for the fist time in more than a decade. After four years there has been tangible progress made, but the bowl games haven't' come. Yet.
"Honestly that's something we're really aware of. We talk about winning in the fourth quarter of games, but we haven't done that in November. Last year we were close. This year we are going into the season knowing what we need to do with the goal of performing throughout the season at a high level."
A year ago the Blue Devils finished 5-7 on the season after sitting at 5-3 on October 31st after a 28-17 victory over Virginia. From there the wheels came off as Duke lost to North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Miami, and Wake Forest to finish 5-7. A win in any of those four contests would have given Duke the needed sixth victory for post season eligibility.
"We can't blow opportunities like that again. We need to finish strong and have the fourth quarter mentality at the end of the season. If we had done that last year we would have made it."
But there was one additional opportunity that haunted Huffman and Duke as the year wore on that served as a reminder in 2009 and will serve as motivation in 2010.
"It's so important to start strong. Last year losing to Richmond really took the wind out of our sails. As the year progressed we talked about our wish to have been able to get that game back. We were a different team in the middle of the season, but we let it get away and that cost us. That's why it is so important to prepare for Elon this year. We have to be focused and be ready on opening day."
When the Blue Devils run out of the tunnel against the Phoenix on September 4th the focus will likely be there, but a familiar face won't be under center after Thaddeus Lewis graduated. However, his replacement, sophomore Sean Renfree has quickly earned his teammates' endorsement.
"Honestly there won't be a lot of change with Sean under center. Obviously Thad was a great player for us, but we have a lot of confidence in Sean. He's already playing really well and we expect him to pick up where Thad left off and run with it. And to exceed that level."
The passing game has been strong for the last few seasons, but the Blue Devils haven't been able to sustain a balancing act with the requisite ground attack. Through three days of practice, Huffman says the team is working hard to correct that.
"We have a bunch of guys on the offensive line who have been playing together for a few years. We have done what we needed in the passing game, but this year we're looking to balance it all. We've got some talented and experienced running backs, but some of the new guys are looking good as well. Josh Snead is our scat back and he's fast as lightning. Then we have another freshman, Juwan Thompson who is nearly as fast but has a little bit more size to him. We're working hard to balance things out."