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Cut Adds 22 (Well, Maybe 25) In 2017 Recruiting Class

“I think we hit home runs across the board” - David Cutcliffe

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NCAA Football: Duke at Notre Dame
Sep 24, 2016; South Bend, IN, USA; The Duke Blue Devils mascot gestures on the sideline in the second quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium. Duke won 38-35. 
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Duke football coach David Cutcliffe announced his 2017 recruiting class Wednesday – meeting first with the Iron Dukes, then with the media to tout his 22-player class.

“This class is – in my opinion – the most physical class we’ve ever signed,” he said.

It was also one of the easiest to put together. Cutcliffe had commitments from 14 prospects by the end of June and 19 of the 22 before the end of July. He said that the average wait time between commitment and signing was 221 days – and that’s including defensive lineman Victor Dimukeje, who was the last commit less than a month ago.

“This is an incredible group of young men,” Cutcliffe said. “They became teammates. They are so committed to each other. We’ve never had a class hit like this class for people trying to flip them, but we really didn’t deal with that at all.”

Actually, Duke did lose two early commits – four-star linebacker Ellis Brooks flipped to Penn State, while four-star quarterback Jack Sears flipped to Southern Cal.

On the other hand, Florida wide receiver Damond Philyaw-Johnson withstood a strong late push from Ohio State, while Atlanta running back Deon Jackson turned away a late bid from Notre Dame.

The result was one of the least-dramatic signing days Cut has ever experienced.

“National signing day – the actual event lasted for us from 7 a.m. to 8:12. How cool is that?” the Duke coach said.

The official 22-player class includes three four-star and 19 three-star recruits. Not counted on the official list are three other additions to the program – offensive tackle Evan Lisle is a grad student transfer from Ohio State who has already enrolled at Duke; placekickers Jack Driggers of Tallahassee, Fla., and Jackson Hubbard of Dallas, Tx., will arrive on campus this summer as “preferred walk-ons” – to battle disappointing incumbent A.J. Reed for placekicking duties.

But the strength of the new class is up front, where Cutcliffe signed six defensive linemen and four offensive linemen (not counting Lisle or two impressive tight end prospects).

Cutcliffe noted that he has brought in 17 linemen in the last two classes, noting, “We’ll see the impact of that in the next few years.”

If there was one oddity in this class, it’s than none of the 22 prospects was from North Carolina. Cutcliffe re-iterated his commitment to recruit Duke’s home state, but noted that the pool of prospects available to Duke in-state was smaller than the overall pool of prospects.

“We worked very hard, but it just didn’t happen,” he said. “That wasn’t planned by any means.”

Duke 2017 class is not rated quite as high as last season’s haul by the recruiting services – ESPN ranks the class at No. 34 nationally (8th in the ACC); 47th by 247 Sports; 46th by Rivals. But Cutcliffe repeated something he said earlier – that he trusts his staff’s ability to evaluate talent more than the recruiting services.

Indeed, he revived Duke football – earning four straight bowl trips between 2012-15 – without signing a class that was rated as high as this one.

A few notes:

-- Duke will open spring practice Friday and will conclude with a Spring Showcase on Mar. 4 – the same day as the Duke basketball team concludes its regular season at North Carolina.

Cutcliffe agreed with a reporter than he will have the strongest redshirt class in his tenure at Duke to work with this spring. He expects a lot of competition at a lot of positions – especially placekicker, kickoff man and long snapper. He does not anticipate competition for the starting QB job – emphasizing that 2016 starter Daniel Jones is the clearcut starter. Thomas Sirk, who started in 2015 and should be ready to play next fall, will not compete in spring practice as he recovers from an Achilles injury.

-- When Sears flipped from Duke to Southern Cal (likely scared off by Jones’ strong season), it gave Cutcliffe a chance to offer QB Chris Katrenick of Algonquin, Ill.

“Chris is a big, strong guy,” Cutcliffe said. “I love everything about him. He played in a really good offensive system. Great attitude. He can run, but he’s got a quick release. He throws digs, slants and curls well. Unbelievably accurate deep ball.

“When we had him in camp, we wanted him right then. But I’m not going to offer somebody something at that moment that I don’t have. We had to have room. The first opportunity we had, we went in that direction.”

Katrenick enrolled at Duke early and will go through spring workouts with the Devils.

-- Cutcliffe was asked about Philyaw-Johnson, a three-star receiver who has been clocked at 4.25 in the 40-yard dash. The Duke coach didn’t confirm that speed, but he noted:

“If you watch tape on him, I don’t care who it is in the state of Florida, he runs past every player he’s played against,” he said. “He’s not only fast … he’s got that short-space quickness.”

-- Duke has been seeking a natural pass rusher for ages. Cut was asked if this class might answer that need.

“A year ago when we hired Ben Alberts [as defensive line coach], we talked about this – what makes a great pass rusher? How do you identify him? What are we looking for?” Cutcliffe said. “We had lengthy discussions about this.”

He has high hopes for all six of this year’s defensive line signees, even two inside guys in the 300-poind range.

“They are a little different – there are some inside rush-men,” he said. “The two cousins – Axel [Nyembwe] and Derrick [Tangelo] are extremely quick and explosive as 300-pound guys. They use their hands well. I think they are going to be different from what we had”

-- Cutcliffe stated that his two running back recruits share one quality – speed.

“Both are really fast,” he said. Marvin [Hubbard] is a darter, like Shaun Wilson. Deon [Jackson] is a blend of that – a very physical runner. His ball skills – his ability to run routes and catch the ball … his speed, I couldn’t believe when we had him in camp.”

-- Cutcliffe signed a two-star prospect a few years ago that he never saw play football in person. But DeVon Edwards was so impressive as a basketball player that Cut took a chance and wound up with an All-American kick returner and a four-year starter in the secondary.

He got another eye-full watching Leonard Johnson on the hardwood.

“I watched him play a basketball game and watched him play defense – the guy he played man-to-man had no fun,” Cutcliffe said. “Leonard Johnson is a big guy [6-1, 185], but I’m not sure Leonard can’t play corner.”

Cutcliffe signed six defensive backs in this class, but he was reluctant to divide them into corners and safeties.

-- The strongest individual position in this class might be tight end, where 6-5, 240-pound Jake Marwede is the highest-rated prospect in the class (No. 188 on the ESPN top 300). But 6-4, 230-pound three-star Noah Gray is equally impressive.

Oddly, both players saw a lot of action at quarterback in high school.

“I don’t care about the ratings, but when it comes to them – they could have gone just about anywhere they wanted to go,” the Duke coach said. “I think we hit home runs.”

After a moment’s reflection, Cutcliffe added, “I think we hit home runs across the board. Any time I look down and see the OL or the DL or the running backs or the DBs you look – anywhere you look, they’re physical and they’re fast.

“And I’m not really describing the best part of them. The best part is that they are already great teammates. They support each other, amazingly.”

Duke’s 22 commitments:

Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Hometown/High School
Josh Blackwell DB 5-11 180 Buford, Ga. Buford
Michael Carter II DB 5-10 175 Douglasville, Ga.South Paulding
Rakavius Chambers OL 6-3 320 Opelika, Ala.Opelika
Victor Dimukeje DL 6-2 265 Baltimore, Md.Boys' Latin
Ben Frye DL 6-3 255 Dublin, Ohio Dublin Coffman
Noah Gray TE 6-4 230 Leominster, Mass. Leominster Senior
Marvin Hubbard III RB 5-9 185 Tyrone, Ga. Sandy Creek
Deon Jackson RB 6-0 210 Atlanta, Ga. Pace Academy
Leonard Johnson DB 6-1 185 Hayden, Ala. Hayden
Drew Jordan DL 6-2 225 Suwanee, Ga. North Gwinnett
Chris Katrenick QB 6-2 205 Algonquin, Ill. Harry D. Jacobs
Patrick Leitten OL 6-7 270 Brentwood, Tenn. Ravenwood
Jake Marwede TE 6-5 240 Wilmette, Ill.Loyola Academy
Damani Neal DB 5-10 190 Sterling, Va.The Bullis School [Md.]
Axel Nyembwe DL 6-2 310 Bethesda, Md.The Avalon School
Damond Philyaw-Johnson WR 6-1 180 Pensacola, Fla.West Florida Tech
Jacob Rimmer OL 6-7 290 Milan, Tenn. Milan
Chris Rumph II DL 6-3 215 Gainesville, Fla. Buchholz
Derrick Tangelo DL 6-2 290 Potomac, Md.The Bullis School
Will Taylor OL 6-3 280 Snellville, Ga.Grayson
Marquis Waters DB 6-0 190 Delray Beach, Fla. Atlantic
Lummie Young IV DB 6-1 200 Anderson, S.C. Westside

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