To start, can you give a brief summary of what it’s like to officially be a Blue Devil?
Brandon Hill: It feels great man, really great. It’s been a long time dream for me to come to Duke, like even before I started getting recruited for football. So, it’s just icing on the cake man.
What was it about Duke that attracted you?
Definitely the academics for sure. Actually Gabe Brandner, who is the starting guard for them, he actually went to my school and he went up there a couple years before I started being recruited by them. Gabe’s always talked really well about them and how he does up there. Gabe and I are pretty close, we talk every couple of weeks. He’s the one who got me into the whole Duke spirit.
What kind of things did he share with you?
We talked about stuff like how the coaching staff does things before I got a chance to meet them, and now that I’ve had some chances to meet them and spend time with them, they are really great guys, great people. Definitely we talked about the academics as well, Gabe is doing the pre-med program now and that’s a path I’m potentially interested in getting into, either pre-med or engineering.
I haven’t decided yet between either program, I know for sure that I want to do either engineering or pre-med, but I’m going to ease into it and see how I feel about both subjects and kinda feel out the courses at first and then make a decision my sophomore year. Most of the pre-requiste courses you take first cover a lot of different specialized areas. Those courses you take early on will be able to count as pre-requisites for a lot of different majors that you could head into.
What drew your interest to potentially major in pre-med or engineering at Duke?
Well I’ve always been interested in engineering since I was younger, and it’s been a goal of mine and Duke has one of the best engineering programs in the nation, so it’s an easy choice kinda with wanting to head up there. I’m not sure what got me interested in engineering at an early age, but I’ve always been good at math and sciences, they have always been my favorite subjects, so it was an easy choice in choosing to look at going maybe with the engineering path.
How has your high school experience prepared you to possibly pursue that engineering path if you choose that at Duke?
Oh yeah, they definitely have with the math I’ve taken as well on the science side. I’m in AP Physics and AP Calculus right now and they are challenging courses for sure, but they definitely prepare you for what you are going to deal with at Duke. I’ve done other AP courses in the past as well.
How does the AP credit system work with Duke?
Yeah, like when you are in the AP courses in high school, if you pass the test with like a 5, you get exempt from some early courses I believe in college. With Duke they definitely recommend you take those pre-requisite courses there because the Duke professors might try to teach different concepts in different ways, so it’ll help you in the long run. So I’m definitely going to take those pre-requisite courses at Duke anyways. I definitely want to make sure that I take those base level courses at Duke because I want to hear what the professors have to say and how they kinda teach in their own separate ways.
How have you balanced an elite athletics career as well as a high level academic one?
It’s like a job. It’s definitely 24/7 that you have to stay focused. Also the main thing is just doing what you need to do because you like everybody else have choices with what you are going to do each day and how you are going to spend your time. If you just have a focused mindset and just get done what you know you need to get done, you will be fine.
With your visits, have you been exposed to the Duke academic side of things? What does that look like?
Oh man, the resources there are just awesome man, especially for the football program for sure. I got to meet a couple of the academic advisors when we were up there and some of the professors from the engineering program as well. Those professors, they are all dialed into the rigors of a Duke student-athlete. I can’t wait to get up there knowing that they know how hard we work both with football and academically and how tough our schedule is, they definitely try to work with us to make balancing all that as easy as possible so we can do our work in both areas.
Do you already have a plan for what summer school courses you are likely taking first once you get on campus?
I do, I talked with the academic advisors, but I’m not sure exactly what time I’m going to be heading up there with whether I go up early or for the second session of summer school. I need to get that in order first with when I’m going to head up. My family wants to spend a little extra time with me potentially, so I think they have something planned for the beginning of the summer, but I have to see what they are talking about.
Ok, let’s take a look back before we talk about the recruiting process with Duke. When could you tell with your football ability that it was going to be able to take you places in life with college and whatnot?
Definitely around sophomore year. I actually played varsity football my freshman year and that was a really good experience because my coaches told me that I had potential in what I was doing. End of sophomore year though is when I went to my first camp, it was actually a Duke camp. I was just kinda feeling out the water then and seeing how I felt about the whole thing and the weekend after that camp, actually that Sunday—Coach Cut and Coach Jones called me up and offered me a scholarship to Duke. That’s when I knew that football was something I really wanted to do since I really enjoyed the game and have a love for the game, I knew I had the potential to play on the college level, so I wanted to try and make the most of that is what I decided then.
So did the high rankings for your ability come later on?
I wouldn’t say I was highly ranked during my freshman or sophomore years. That definitely came later, my junior year is when I blew up.
So when the increased attention came with rankings your junior year—where would you say you were in the recruiting process with Duke and other programs?
It blew up literally right after Duke offered me, like a week after that Clemson offered me and it was a whirlwind after that for the next couple of months. I committed the end of my junior year to Duke and it kinda died down after that, but that junior year it really blew up. Duke was actually my very first offer.
How did you feel about Duke when they were the first to offer you a scholarship?
Oh man, it was crazy. I remember getting a call from Coach Jones that night, it was Sunday evening and when he told me they were offering me. I was so happy and I just ran inside to tell my parents what was going on and they were so happy too. We just kinda sat and celebrated a little bit right then, it was great. They knew it had always been a dream of mine to go to Duke when they offered me, it was just great.
How far back had the communication gone with Duke before they extended that scholarship offer?
Honestly, not that far. I had connections with Gabe up there before they offered me, so I had talked with Coach Jones every once and awhile. But really it wasn’t anything crazy until after they had offered me.
Duke fans are very familiar with Coach Jones and his Twitter prowess, but what’s he like when it’s you and him just talking?
He’s a great guy and I think the very best thing that I like about Coach Jones is he ALWAYS keeps it real with you 100%. I really respected that with someone who was coming from the perspective of a recruiter since a lot of them try to juice you up a bit to get you to go to their school, he just keeps it 100% real with you and that’s what I like about him.
I remember when they offered me, he told me they had just been sitting there and were watching my film and Coach Cut just kinda broke it down, he told me they had been watching my film and they thought I was a great player, and he told me that he wanted me to know firsthand that we really want you and we want to offer you a scholarship at Duke University. After that, it was kinda blurry, I was just so happy man.
You mentioned Clemson offered not too long after Duke did. How did you balance being a high school player in South Carolina getting an offer from one of the flagship South Carolina programs while also seriously considering Duke?
I definitely had a bias towards Duke early on, but Coach Venables from Clemson came and he visited during my sophomore year—so I knew him early on as well and he’s just a great guy and a great coach for sure, but obviously the whole, I was just really biased towards Duke from the very beginning. That’s the easiest way for me to put it with how much they appealed to me. Clemson is a great school, don’t get me wrong and they were way up on the list as well, but Duke just fit me best.
What kind of things were you looking at that took Duke from being a program of interest to being your school?
So my parents definitely had a lot of pull in that, they really wanted me to examine everything with my options and see the aspects of each college with what they had to offer and also what I could offer them. After awhile of doing that, it was just really obvious that Duke was the best place for me. I knew that academics, my mom has been an educator so she was big on that with Duke and would I be coming in having an opportunity to compete and play was something we looked at with the schools and also the people with the coaching staff, we were big on looking at how the coaching staff worked with their student/athletes. The academic support teams for student/athletes, we wanted to make sure they were really good and that they actually worked with their student/athletes and made sure they actually did what they needed to do. Those were the main things we looked at.
It sounds like a big part of your decision for Duke was a school decision, is that a good read?
Oh yeah that’s definitely important, yes sir.
So on the football side of things with Duke, what kind of things were you looking at and what kind of questions were you asking?
I had a couple of offers from good programs, but one thing that really stood out with Duke was they were never really known for their football program, but the past couple of years they have been making huge progress with the school with their football program, especially since they have been under Coach Cutcliffe. I had heard great things about Coach Cutcliffe about how he had turned other programs around and also how he had helped so many kids progress as both men and athletes, so that was a huge factor in making my decision was seeing where Duke was and where they were headed in the future. I wanted to be a part of that for sure.
What was it like for you being a highly ranked guy and knowing that you wanted to go to Duke and be a part of what you were seeing happening there?
The main thing is you gotta put faith in the program and in what you and your teammates can do. So a lot of guys take the easy road out and say I want to go to a big program that’s doing well right now or has done well in the past, but it takes a lot to say I want to be a part of this up-and-rising program and make something great out of it. I think that’s what all of us in my class decided to do, we all made that decision to help come and continue to help build something great.
What do you remember about the final days leading up to making your verbal commitment to Duke?
Honestly the funny thing I remember is I knew I was going to take a visit to Duke, but I really had no intention going in of committing that weekend. It was just another visit going in. Then I remember I was sitting in the room with Coach Cutcliffe and we were talking about the program and what they were doing and how they were doing it with all the coaches and players and I just really felt at home with the program. All the coaches there and all the players I had hung out with there that weekend. It just kinda jumped at me then that I really wanted to be there, so I just committed right then and there on the spot.
What was the reaction in the room to that?
Oh man it was great, Coach Cutcliffe was so excited—he went out in the hallway and got the other coaches that were there and we had a little celebration there. It was great, it felt really good. My dad was up there with me too, he’s actually a big Duke fan too, so he was ecstatic when he heard me do that.
So then it was a long way until signing day from when you committed, how did the rest of the recruiting process go for you after that verbal commitment?
It was easy actually. After I committed I made sure I let the other coaches know that I wasn’t planning on switching to go anywhere and so it really died down after that and it made things a lot more simpler. Really the hardest part was the waiting to put my signature on paper and make it official.
Let’s talk relationship with your future teammates, who have you really grown close with?
The only people I’ve really had a lot of time to spend time with are Antone Williams, Alexander Gagnon and Dylan (Singleton) when we were on our official visit a couple of weeks ago. We have a group chat and all that and we talk every other night on that, it’s always really good conversations with the whole class. They are all really good guys and we already have a bond going. That group chat is awesome man because it lets us learn a lot about each other even though we come from different perspective and backgrounds from all around the country. It’s interesting how we are mixing together and getting that feeling early on.
Can you recap the recent official visit?
It was kinda a basic visit since we were all commits, they weren’t trying to sell us or anything like that. It was hanging out with the other commits and guys at the school who are there already. It was about getting to know the guys.
What are your impressions of the linebackers as a whole?
Oh yeah we are all number one, we are all athletes that can move. That’s a big thing we all bring and I think we will work really well together because we have different aspects with our athletic ability and things we can bring to the table. The coaching staff has a good plan to mix us together and build a good Coalition out of that.
What’s the staff’s vision for you in the program?
I think they have the roles set out for where they want us to be, but the big thing is getting in this summer and just working hard and competing and see how we progress with our athletic ability and learning the playbook. I think we’ll have a definite idea by the end of the summer of where we’re going to be and what we’re going to be doing. They will ask me to a lot of different things I think since I do a lot of things for my high school team. Wherever they put me will be good, I’ll be happy to be playing defense there. We have plenty of room to grow together since a lot of us are younger in the linebacker group, it’ll be good in the future as we play together.
In closing, how would you describe the class to the fanbase at large?
We’re working hard for you guys and we’re coming to continue help the program get better. We’re coming to work, that’s pretty much it man…#DukeGang.