Early in the 2011 season, Boone entered the game against Stanford in the fourth quarter, with Duke trailing 44-7. He went 7 of 9 in mop-up duty. The following week, he completed both of his passes against Boston College. Last season, Boone came in against Wake Forest after Sean Renfree suffered an injury and went 8 of 11 to help wrap up a victory.
Those are the only three games in Boone's career that he's had a higher completion percentage than Renfree posted last season. Throw in a 13 of 21 performance mopping up in last year's Stanford game, and Boone has four games with a higher percentage than Renfree posted in the worst season of his four year career.
Suffice it to say, with Renfree attempting to make the Falcons roster instead of leading the Duke offense, there will be more balls hitting the turf at Wallace Wade Stadium this year than in previous seasons.
"We're two different style quarterbacks," Boone says of the prospect of replacing the most accurate Duke quarterback of all time. "He's more of a pro style quarterback, with higher accuracy. I'm more of a big-play chance risk taker that can run a little bit. I want to be as consistent as he was—being accurate, being on time, knowing defenses."
Switching to a less-experienced quarterback whose numbers in limited time pale in comparison to Renfree's, it's easy to expect Duke's offense to take a step back this season. That's likely one of the reasons the Blue Devils were picked to finish seventh in the Coastal Division this season despite a bowl appearance last year.
But there are reasons for optimism. While Boone works on improving his accuracy, the Blue Devils will run an offense better suited toward what Boone already does well, running and throwing on the move. They'll show some zone read and run the high-tempo pace that's quickly becoming all the rage in college football. The passing game may not be as accurate, but it could have a higher potential for big plays.
"When we get third and long, and teams are going to play quarters, we're not going to be afraid to be aggressive and take shots over their heads," Boone says. "We'll trust our guys to get open and make tough catches."
As that man-of-the-people description of the offense implies, Boone has already been busy playing to his strengths. He connects easily with his teammates, and early returns suggest that he may have already moved past Renfree in that key area.
"I'm being more vocal," Boone says of his new role. "Staying focused more on film study on and off-field stuff: Mainly being a voice in locker room, in the weight room, in the training room, out in the field, and out there during conditioning drills."
Renfree's skills on the field and work ethic off it earned praise from coaches and teammates throughout his Duke career. When asked what he took from his predecessor, Boone answered, "His big thing is he's very accountable off the field, when it comes to his film study. Everybody knows how hard he works. He'd be the first person here in the Yoh, at 5:00 in the morning, and he'd be the last one to leave, getting in a little extra film study."
The thing that made Renfree successful, his single-minded focus on his craft, was also his biggest weakness. In 2011, Cutcliffe spoke of the need for the team to have fun and just play the game, instead of obsessing on the quest for perfection.
Boone has a more natural ability to bond with his teammates. "I like to talk to everybody," he says. "I have a good relationship with everybody on the team. I'm very outgoing and charismatic, if I do say so."
That doesn't mean that Boone doesn't work hard studying the playbook. He just doesn't lock himself in a room to do it. "It's a lot easier than it was when I was a freshman, because now we have iPads. It's a lot easier to study more film and run through plays whenever you have free time or a down moment. I like talking football and picking people's brains, inside and outside the Yoh."
His teammates have responded to the more-approachable Boone.
"Anthony is enthused about a lot of things," sophomore running back Jela Duncan says. "He takes more control of the team, and of the offense—more than Sean did."
"He's a lot vocal," Duncan continues. "During the summer, he got the young guys lined up. He took time out of his day to teach the young guys, which I'm not really sure that Sean did last year. He just seems more of like a leader."
Duncan adds, "Sean was a leader. Not taking anything away from Sean," but, since he was one of "the young guys" last year, it's clear he's responding more to Boone's hands-on style of leadership.
"I try to bring those guys along," Boone says, "because the more I teach them, the more I'm basically teaching myself. That's what our program's all about: Bringing the freshmen along and indoctrinating the young guys."
Accuracy isn't everything. Boone's success, and Duke's hopes for a winning season, may hinge on how true that statement turns out to be.