So, the first question is the most obvious…how does it feel to officially be a Blue Devil?
Mark Birmingham It feels great, definitely a great accomplishment and a real big weight off my back. I’m just ready to take that next step and be at Duke.
Before we dive into the rest of the questions, can you give us a bit of a self evaluation of Mark Birmingham off the field?
I’m a pretty easy going guy, I work hard but when I’m done with work I like to have fun and be with lots of my friends and just have a lot of good times. I definitely am very close with my teammates just because of the amount of time you spend with them, but I do enjoy having diverse friends who don’t play sports or who come from different backgrounds. I like to be friends with all.
Sticking with the away from football theme, what kind of activities do you gravitate to off the field?
I like academics and learning. I like business, and maybe law. I feel that when you are around your best friends you can really do anything and have fun, but I admit that things can get real intense when we play Madden or FIFA and just hang out.
Who are your go-to teams on Madden and FIFA?
With Madden it’s definitely New England and with FIFA it’s Real Madrid. I’ve always been a big fan of Ronaldo and with the game it’s really you can go with him or with Messi, so I went with Ronaldo.
With Madden and with FIFA, I know there’s a connection of incoming Duke recruits, so is there anybody in your class that you are competitive with already?
I haven’t played them yet, but I’m sure once we get into our dorms, I’m sure we will quickly see who has some skills.
Let’s talk your background with football. When did you start in the game, and when did you begin to excel?
I actually didn’t start really playing until about the 5th grade. I was kind of a shy kid and my parents just kind of threw me out there to play and I stuck with it. It wasn’t until 9th grade when I was on varsity with a team of lot of guys who were going to play at the next level and I could compete with them. My head coach told me then to just keep sticking with it and I could do what’s needed to help you become marketable to these college teams. So that’s what I did and then I got offered that year in the summer. Then from there things just took off.
Playing tight end you are responsible for a lot of different roles on the field, are you a guy who is more out in the passing game or is your first strength in protection and blocking?
Well when I played for high schools we had a couple of good quarterbacks, so we loved to throw and I would be involved in the passing game a lot. I’d be lined up out wide, on the line, in the backfield really just all over the field which allowed me to learn every position and route. I can be used all over the field.
You are obviously a highly ranked player both in your position area, what was it like for you when you started getting all that recognition from coaches and media?
It definitely felt good just because I knew how hard I work and the time I put into this game. It was nice to be recognized for those things. I couldn’t let it get to my head though because I still had goals and places that I wanted to be.
When you made the decision to verbally commit to Duke you had a lot of other high major offers, what was it like for you sorting through it all?
Yeah the offers started to build up, but I knew one of the main things that I would take into consideration was what the schools could offer me academically. That actually made things a lot easier for me. I was able to get it down to around five schools and Duke just to me stood out the most and it felt like home.
What do you remember about when you and Duke first began contact?
Coach Roper was actually at my school my freshman year to look at another guy, and my coach kind of helped us cross paths so we’d be able to meet. It was very brief and the next year in the summer I contacted him and told him I wanted to come down for a Duke camp and he gave me a date. Then I went down to their camp and did pretty well, and they ended up offering me that day, that’s kinda how it all came about.
How much did you know about Duke when you first started talking with Coach Roper?
Before the camp I didn’t know much but I did know they were going to bowls which was awesome. Still, I wasn’t paying too much attention to it. But after I got the offer, I really started to look into it more and I really just liked what I saw.
What stood out for you in how Duke communicated the scholarship offer to you?
I know early in the camp there were around six tight ends and I did my best to assert myself and stand out, and I think I did. Then Coach Roper started paying me a little more attention, I didn’t know but he actually talked to my dad in between drills and he told me that I was doing a really good job. Then at the end of the camp we walked up to Coach Cut’s room and had a small talk. Then Coach ended up offering me a scholarship at the end.
Do you remember your reaction to the offer?
It was crazy. I’ve always know Coach Cutcliffe from when he coached Eli and Peyton and just being in that room, he has real skills to work a crowd and he’s a real people person. He can sell man, haha. Really, it was just an honor. Duke’s offer came my summer going into my junior year, I had maybe five or six offers at that point.
At that point was Duke a favorite?
I think on the ride home it just really stuck out for me. I had always been a fan of Duke just because of Coach K and his team and I’ve just been a fan of that school. From that point on, I just started to like more and more what the football program was doing and I never really found a school or felt the same way about any other school like I did Duke. So I committed pretty early in my class. I was the 3rd commit in my class for Duke, it was November of my junior year.
It’s not so often that high rated guys make early decisions like that though…
I knew what I wanted and I knew that I wanted to be at Duke. I just didn’t see any reason to wait and I knew there wasn’t going to be any other school that could make me change my mind.
Do you remember how you informed the coaches?
I was actually at a game. They were playing Tech and they actually lost. It was a tough, late loss. I ran into Coach briefly and they were in a bad mood from the loss, but I told them that I really want to be here, that I wanted to be a Blue Devil. They were all like, “Wow, we’re so excited” and they brought me up to see Coach Cutcliffe and things were all good from there.
Did you go into that visit knowing you wanted to commit to Duke?
Yeah I think my parents definitely wanted me to, but they were going to leave it up to me. It definitely felt right to me, so I went ahead and did it then.
Since you committed so early, what kind of role did you play in their recruiting efforts in your class after that?
Yeah so being one of the first guys and having a respectable ranking and stars, I really wanted to make the statement that highly ranked guys can go to Duke and it can be cool. I think a lot of guys just go where there’s a lot pop to it and people think that it’s real cool and the big names, but I wanted to be a part of a class that could show that it is cool to be at Duke.
Before I committed I remember reading an article on Scott Bracey and I talked to him briefly to see what he was about. He just was a really great guy and I committed and then a few weeks after that I talked with him again. Him and I became friends and I definitely become really close with Myles Hudzick who lives like 20 minutes away from me.
You then got to see more and more highly rated guys make the same choice. What was that like?
Yeah we were just excited to be a part of it all because we had never been through that before. To see a lot of really good guys and real good players come on board, it was really exciting. I was really excited all the time about Duke as more guys were coming in and we even actually have a Commits Chat, now it’s a Signees Chat. We just have a great time getting to know each other and are starting to bond before we are even there. It’s just been awesome to get to know all those guys that are coming.
How did that group chat get started?
I think it started with just me, Scott and Elijah Deveaux. Then more people started committing and we would immediately add them to the chat and would welcome them in and it just kept growing. I think the best thing with it is when someone would announce that they wanted to come to Duke, someone would get a screenshot of tweet or post and put it in the chat and someone would have to find who they were and add them to the chat and everybody was just embraced and felt like they were home.
As a tight end, have you had a chance to meet Daniel Helm or the other guys?
I had met Daniel on a visit. Every time I’ve been up to Duke for an overnight visit I’ve stay with Davis Koppenhaver. Both Davis and Daniel are good friends, so I’d hang out with them. They are both really awesome guys.
What are your thoughts on the tight end group now that you are committed and how you guys complement each other with your games?
I think regardless we are going to be good friends and teammates and we will complement each other well.
What have the coaches said to you about their vision for you?
We just talked briefly about where I would fit and that would be a guy who can shift and line up outside and kinda do a little bit of mix of everything. I’ll be doing a lot of things and I’ll have to know everyone’s job, so it will be a good challenge.
Are they expecting you to come in and compete right away for a spot?
I’m not sure about that. I don’t think they predetermine if someone is going to redshirt. All I know is I’m going to come in prepared as if I am going to play and then see what happens.
What’s the plan for heading to campus and getting started with summer school and all that?
I think Coach Cutcliffe wants everyone there who isn’t already there on June 5th. So that’s a Sunday and I believe class starts the following day.
What has the Duke staff asked you to work in preparation for the summer and fall camps?
Just continue doing what I’m doing and just be prepared. They did say to definitely come in in shape because the number one thing that can hold a guy back once he’s there is if they come in out of shape.
With having been committed for so long, is there anything you’d tell the collective fanbase?
Definitely. I think I speak on behalf of the entire group when I say that we are a highly talented and motivated group of guys and we can’t wait to get on campus and on the team and contribute any way we can and help Duke win.