DURHAM, N.C. (AP) – Shortly after quarterback Daniel Jones arrived on Duke's campus last year, his teammates nicknamed him the ''Future.''
For the redshirt freshman, the future is now.
A season-ending injury setback to starter Thomas Sirk makes Jones the first Duke freshman QB to start an opener since 1997, and just the fourth in 65 years, when he leads the Blue Devils against North Carolina Central on Saturday night.
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Jones wants to make the most of the opportunity he received because of mentor was hurt.
''I was just heartbroken for him, being such a hard-working guy that I have so much respect for,'' Jones said Tuesday of Sirk. ''That was tough to see him go down. He's been a great resource for me since I've been here. … I'm excited to get out there and play.''
The Blue Devils are putting their offense in the hands of the soft-spoken Jones, a late addition to their 2015 recruiting class from Charlotte who figured to be headed to Princeton or another Ivy League schools before Duke eventually showed interest.
At 6-foot-5, Jones is an inch taller than Sirk and while he has the frame of a pocket passer, coach David Cutcliffe said he ''is going to be a threat to run the football.''
''It's a job that Daniel's won right now,'' Cutcliffe said.
Jones took most of the first-team snaps during preseason practice, and threw two touchdown passes during a late scrimmage, while Sirk – who led the team in rushing and passing last year and was the co-MVP of the Pinstripe Bowl victory over Indiana – worked on rehabbing the Achilles tendon he tore in February.
''Reps are huge things when you're playing quarterback, seeing the defense, and you need to play the game to get better at it,'' Jones said. ''That was huge for me.''
The question about whether Sirk would make it back for the opener was answered decisively – but not the way Duke would prefer – last week when he partially tore that same tendon during a practice.
Now comes the latest test of Duke's next-man-up philosophy, with Jones taking over and trying to live up to the nickname he picked up last year while running the scout team. He brushed off questions about that name Tuesday with an embarrassed laugh.
''He's a pretty good quarterback – we've known that since he got here,'' safety DeVon Edwards said. ''A lot of guys called him the ''Future'' … from the very beginning.''