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New Duke Football Coach Mike Elko Comments On Signing Day

He seems pleased

South Carolina State v Duke
 DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 14: Duke football head coach Mike Elko is introduced during the game between the South Carolina State Bulldogs and the Duke Blue Devils during the first half at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 14, 2021 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

When Mike Elko took over as head coach of the Duke football program he said that his first task was to hold together Duke’s recruiting class.

Task accomplished. Duke did lose a couple of guys but signed 16 players who originally committed to David Cutcliffe’s Duke program but transitioned to Mike Elko’s Duke program.

“I think from afar you always expect more defections,” he told the media Wednesday. “You would anticipate more fracturing. I think it’s a testament to their character and I think it’s a testament to the Duke brand. They chose Duke long before I was here. That part of it hasn’t changed. What I had to do was to get them to trust and believe in me as best I could in a four-day window. I really put myself out there as much as I possibly could.”

Elko went out of his way to compliment the previous staff in his signing-day media conference.

“Obviously, I didn’t get to play a ton of role in the recruitment of these young men, so there are a lot of thank-you’s that need to be said. The first thank-you obviously has to go to Coach Cutcliffe and his staff. I think those guys did an unbelievable job of identifying players who fit Duke.”

No coach ever went before the media and downplayed his or her recruiting class and Elko certainly didn’t break that mold. But he said he especially liked the balance of the class, eight offensive players, seven defensive players, one athlete who might end up on either side of the ball, no key position completely unaddressed.

He also likes the geographical balance, the fact that Duke brought in six kids “from North Carolina. That’s always where we want to start. But we’re also represented by nine different states and that kind of points to that vision that we talked about being that national brand.”

Elko answered questions about this specific class but also some broader questions about his recruiting and coaching philosophies.

Some highlights.

Duke still has some scholarships to play with but Elko said he’s going to use them carefully.

“I don’t anticipate anything else happening this signing period unless something comes off the radar in the next couple of days. I would expect there would be a little bit of a push to see if we can supplement this class in the second signing period. But we’ve always got to be careful here that we’re doing what’s the best thing for four years. I don’t have a mindset of ‘I have to fill this number or find this many guys.’ “

Elko added that he and his staff would “dig under any rock” to find talent, transfer or high-school players.

Around half of these signees plan on showing up for the spring 2022 semester. That’s more than we usually see at Duke and Elko is a fan of that trend.

“I think it’s huge. I think it’s a huge advantage for a football player to come in at mid-year. When a football player comes in in the fall and he has to jump right into fall camp and then academics, in-season practices, games, that’s a challenge.”

Speaking of spring, Elko said he hasn’t even begun to think about dates or a spring game open to the public or anything along those lines.

How many of these newcomers will redshirt as freshmen?

To be determined.

“All of that is an individual basis. I don’t ever come in and say this kid has to redshirt. Every kid should come in with the opportunity and thought process that he’s going to start. We want to recruit kids that are competitive in nature like that. Then there’s a reality that hits in somewhere about three weeks into fall camp where you’ve identified where this kid’s role is. I think some kids will do that. I think some kids have the ability to walk in and be impact players.”

Elko indicated that he wants to recruit nationally but wants to focus on North Carolina and the greater I-95 corridor, citing “driveability” and name brand, going all the way up the east coast.

But he added that he was open to having “his antennas” up for recruits going all the way to the west coast.

And he knows Texas.

Recruiting isn’t the only thing on Elko’s plate, of course. He’s doing a deep dive into film work to learn about his returning players. He called it “profile tapes.”

And he has a staff to put together. Elko said that he’s had lots of inquiries about those vacant assistant positions; “a tremendous amount of interest. People want to be here.”

Recruiting ability will be a consideration but only one. That word “balance” cropped up again.’

“You’re trying to create a level of balance when you put a staff together. Every coach has certain strengths and weaknesses. You don’t want to overload with X-and-O guys, you don’t want to overload with recruiters. You want to find guys with a lot of balance in those areas.”

Elko used the term “crash course” to describe these hectic last few weeks but says he sees some time down the road where he can take a deep breath and concentrate on putting together his 2022 football team.

But in the meantime, he’s looking at finalizing a class that he calls “a great group. I think I’m really happy for them. I’m happy they’re coming here. I think they can make an impact on the field. I think they can be competitive in this conference.”