by Mike Potter
BROOKS FOOTBALL BUILDING/DURHAM "Duke football got better today. Absolutely, Duke football got better today."
That was Blue Devil coach David Cutcliffe's assessment of the third recruiting class of his tenure, in which there are nine North Carolinians in the class of 19 players.
Cutcliffe announced the signing of two quarterbacks, eight backs and nine linemen to national letters of intent at his annual signing day press luncheon.
And a key part of that is the North Carolinians, most of them from across the Piedmont portion of the state. Smithfield-Selma running back Josh Snead and Tarboro offensive tackle Takoby Cofield are the two from the local TV market.
Cutcliffe said the Blue Devils' recruiting efforts in the state are getting consistently better.
"I'm really thankful for the coaches in the state of North Carolina and what they've done working with us," Cutcliffe said. "We're just thrilled with the (in-state) results and we're deep into that again. Looking across the state over the next few years, you're going to see more and more and more players at Duke out of the state of North Carolina for lots of reasons and first and foremost because of the quality of the athletes and the coaches. ...
"I have a lot of long-term relationships in the state of North Carolina. I came over here as a very young, full-of-hair coach back in the '80s and signed some good players and made some good friends. Fortunately I'm not so old that all of those friends have retired. ... I think the coaches in North Carolina realize that we're going to listen to what they say. I don't think there's any question that recruiting and winning go hand in hand. When you recruit better it's easier to win games, and when you win games it's easier to recruit. The quality of the player that is interested (in Duke) is getting better."
Duke's haul includes four players from Georgia and one each from six other states.
The other seven North Carolinians are backs Brandon Braxton and Braxton Deaver from Charlotte Providence, quarterback Anthony Boone from Monroe Weddington, back Isaac Blakeney from Monroe High, back Kelby Brown from Charlotte Christian, lineman Nick Sink from Forsyth Country Day and back Quan Stevenson from High Point Andrews.
Snead, Cofield and Stevenson played in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas in December.
The Georgians are lineman Will Bryant and back Juwan Thompson from Atlanta's Woodward Academy, lineman Jamal Bruce of LaGrange Callaway, and back C.J. France of Columbus Carver.
The other incoming quarterback is Brandon Connette of Corona (Calif.) Santiago.
Duke's other incoming linemen are Jamal Wallace of Virginia Beach Green Run, Dezmond Johnson of Nashville (Tenn.) Overton, Steven Ingram of Southhaven (Miss.), Laken Tomlinson of Chicago Lane Technical, and Jordon Ondijo of Prairie View (Texas) Waller.
Connette and Snead enrolled at Duke in January.
Cutcliffe has been emphasizing speed ever since he took the Duke job in the spring of 2008, and said this signing class lives up to those expectations.
"I was really looking for speed on both sides of the ball," he said. "Speed has never had a bad day in football. I can promise you there has never been a player who has been chewed out about running too fast."
Cutcliffe also announced that rising senior kicker Will Snyderwine earned a scholarship, while rising junior Johnny Williams has been moved from wideout to cornerback and rising sophomore Kenny Anunike from tight end to defensive end.
Duke's spring practice begins Feb. 15.