This could count as more recruiting-related hyperbole, but Trevon Lee’s commitment to Duke on Monday seemed to signify something.
Duke football, for the first time in the lives of current recruits, looks and feels and resembles a viable place to play college football for those whose athletic and academic desires intersect with what’s being sold in Durham, N.C.
No, the Blue Devils don’t yet compete in conference clout with the ACC’s top tier — which currently is pretty much Florida State and Clemson before a drop off — and they certainly aren’t in fighting shape with the national brand-name programs. Nobody is saying Duke’s now battling Alabama on the recruiting trail.
But that’s not news, nor is it really the point. The point is this: Would, only a year ago, Duke get a player like Lee, a four-star receiver out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.?
Maybe — perhaps if Lee had specific academic interests in Duke — but probably not. He’s the kind of athlete who’s usually scooped up by a more football-centric school, and Stanford, South Carolina, Missouri, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt (which finished second in the race) all made him offers. It’s easy to see why those programs would be interested.
At 5-foot-11 and 168 pounds, Lee has plenty of room to add strength to a frame that’s wiry but already muscular and physical. His best asset, which won’t be mitigated a bit by routinely facing Division I-caliber athletes, is his catching ability.
“People will talk about his hands,” Mike Morrill, Lee’s coach at Cardinal Gibbons High School, told FOXSports.com. “He just catches everything. He catches it over his shoulder, he catches it over the middle. He catches the ball with his hands.”
Lee’s speed and quick feet were good enough to overwhelm most opponents at the prep level, but he won’t be a burner in college. Instead, Morrill says, he’ll have a chance to separate himself in the nuances of his position.
“He has great precision in running his routes, and he’s just so fluid he doesn’t look like he’s running as fast as he is,” Morrill said. “Next thing you know, he sticks his foot in the ground and gets some separation from the DB. That takes time and a lot of hard work — anyone can run straight down the field. He’s just an all-around great receiver.”
Here are some highlights from Lee’s junior season if you want a look:
Lee is the fourth four-star recruit in Duke’s 2014 class, which is more history for the David Cutcliffe regime.
In the six seasons Cutcliffe has been the head coach in Durham, the Blue Devils signed a total of one four-star recruit — kicker Will Monday in the Class of 2011. This year, in addition to Lee, Duke has four-star commits from linebacker Zavier Carmichael (Mobile, Ala.), quarterback Nicodem Pierre (Miami, Fla.) and running back Shaun Wilson (Charlotte, N.C.).
That’s more four-star recruits than Missouri, Wisconsin, Louisville and others, although more important might be whereDuke is strengthening its presence with this class.
Lee plus three-star defensive tackle Edgar Cerenord (Plantation, Fla.) and three-star wide receiver Chris Taylor (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) give the Blue Devils three recruits out of Florida’s Broward County, one of the country’s most talent rich sectors that’s mined every year by the nation’s best programs.
In the previous six seasons of the Cutcliffe era, Duke has pulled only two total recruits from the Broward area — cornerback Tim Burton, who went to Lee’s high school but is no longer with the program, in 2011 and linebacker Austin Gamble out of Weston, Fla., in 2009.
Combine the Broward three in 2014 with Pierre out of Miami-Dade County, the state’s most populous territory, and that’s great Florida work for the Duke in a single recruiting cycle (In the six years prior, Duke nabbed three players total from Miami-Dade).
Does this mean Duke will start winning ACC championships and competing for the college football playoff that goes into effect in 2014? No, but getting to a league title in 2013 — even if Duke was thoroughly overmatched against the eventual national champion Seminoles, losing 45-7 — was historic and, along with the Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Texas A&M, marked the beginning of newfound name recognition and pull Duke now enjoys.
That’s a funny sentence to write — that two losses to end a season could have such a positive effect on a program — but in this sense it’s definitely true.
Duke’s 10-2 regular season was the first double-digit win campaign in program history, and just the fact it beat out Virginia Tech, Miami and others to win the Coastal was notable. Nobody seemed to care whether the ACC Championship Game would be competitive or not.
We’ll remember the 2013 Chick-fil-A Bowl for Johnny Manziel’s fourth-quarter comeback in his final college game, but we’ll also remember Duke’s Anthony Boone throwing for 427 yards and jitterbug Jamison Crowder catching 12 passes for 163 yards and a TD. We’ll remember the 38-17 lead Duke took into halftime and thinking, “Wait — are the Devils really going to do this?”
Whatever the feeling, the fact that there was feeling regarding Duke football beyond the boundaries of Durham and the hearts of alumni scattered across America’s metropolises was something different and unique and welcomed.
Hopefully this Class of 2014 is the extension of that for Duke, a finally formidable pillar upon which David Cutcliffe can build something to last in the ACC.
Teddy Mitrosilis writes and edits college football for FOXSports.com. Follow him on Twitter and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.