Injuries leave slumping Duke with 1 captain vs No. 23 Hokies
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Duke isn't just losing games these days. It's also losing captains.
The Blue Devils named four captains before the season and three of them are out with season-ending injuries. That leaves defensive tackle A.J. Wolf as the only one of those leaders healthy enough to play this week against No. 23 Virginia Tech.
Being the last captain standing is ''definitely not a good feeling,'' Wolf said Tuesday, ''but I'm going to do my best to hold the torch and keep on going strong for the team.''
Coach David Cutcliffe said none of the teams in his three-plus-decade coaching career have ever dealt with this many losses to a corps of captains.
''I've also never been around resilient young people like this 2016 team,'' he added. ''Our leadership is strong, our spirits are strong, and therefore we're going to continue to work.''
And while it might make for a more lonely experience at the pre-game coin toss – ''I'm a heads guy,'' Wolf quipped – and has led to questions about whether the captaincy is cursed, it also underscores why Duke (3-5, 0-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) is in jeopardy of missing the postseason for the first time since 2011.
The Blue Devils lost three of four in October to fall into last place in the Coastal Division, and are the only ACC team without a win in league play. It certainly won't be easy to find that victory against the division leading Hokies (6-2, 4-1), who have won two straight to claim the inside track to a berth in the ACC championship game.
''I don't think anybody's very far ahead of anybody else in this division,'' Tech coach Justin Fuente said.
But the Blue Devils aren't just missing leaders. They're also missing some of their best players.
The preseason selections of quarterback Thomas Sirk, defensive back DeVon Edwards, running back Jela Duncan and Wolf seemed obvious because of their contributions both in leadership roles and on the field.
Sirk, who was third in the ACC in total offense last season and led the team in rushing, was the first to go down. He first tore his left Achilles tendon in February, then reinjured it during the preseason . Edwards, whose six career kickoff returns for touchdowns rank third in NCAA Division I history, tore ligaments in his left knee during a win at Notre Dame in September. And Duncan, the team's leading rusher this season, ruptured an Achilles tendon during last week's loss at Georgia Tech .
''It's a bummer when you lose not just good leaders but good players,'' Wolf said. ''They're definitely talented guys, but with that being said, I think it gives opportunities for some other guys to step in.''
They're still leaning on those injured captains for their advice, with Cutcliffe saying Duncan was dispensing advice in the training room earlier Tuesday.
''These are guys that could just check out,'' Cutcliffe said. ''But they don't.''
The Blue Devils also are looking for more leadership – and production – from the players who can play. Some apparent candidates include sophomore linebacker Ben Humphreys, the team's leading tackler, and defensive backs Corbin McCarthy and Breon Borders.
''Guys don't have to be honorary captains to step up,'' Wolf said. ''You can step up in practice, even if you're a young guy. Motivate guys and just make plays out there. So I think some guys are doing that.''
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz Jr. in Blacksburg, Virginia, contributed to this report.
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