Checking In With Duke DT A.J. Wolf

Fresh off a junior season in which he established himself as a starter at defensive tackle and then logged 54 stops and 4.0 tackles for loss, AJ Wolf now looks forward to his final season at Duke. We spoke with the fifth year senior about his team’s progress, the outlook for the coming season, and the offseason changes.

With all the moves in the offseason, what has been the general atmosphere of Spring Practice?  

A.J. Wolf:  It’s been great so far.  We are all really excited to build on what we did last year with winning the bowl game, but also we want to improve on a disappointing 7-5 season.

What was disappointing about a year in which Duke Football won a bowl?

The losses in general.  We’ve been doing well for a few years, and it’s great to think that an eight win year could be disappointing, but nobody on the roster has seen the dark days of Duke Football.

Moving into spring practice, what are some of the noticeable changes - specifically with the new coaches coming in?

For the defensive line, Coach Ben Albert has brought a really good mentality.  He’s really focusing on playing as a whole unit as a defense.  He wants us to do our individual jobs in a way that helps the guy next to you.  And he doesn’t let you get away with anything…I’ll just say that.

Obviously, the defense losing Jeremy Cash could be a big blow.  Who is your pick to step up and fill his role?

I’m not sure anyone does, but a lot of guys are ready to step up.  A lot of guys are working to move up the chain.  Guys like Marquies Price and Ben Humphreys are working really hard.  It’s not just one guy.

With the new coaches, are there schematic changes happening?

It’s still very early and we’re not too deep into the new stuff yet.  Right now it’s been basic technique work, but we are looking forward to doing a lot more.

Earlier you mentioned that nobody on the roster has seen the dark days of Duke Football.  I assume that could also reference the improvements and renovations around the program?

Definitely. I know when we walk from the parking lot - at least for me - it’s great to look up at the press box every day and see how it’s coming along.  Really it’s night and day from two or three years ago.  

And on the field?

As a team our attitude is about getting better and pushing each other.  We are to the point where we want the players hold one another accountable and not just the coaches.

This year, on paper, it appears your schedule is a good deal tougher than last year…

We are definitely playing a lot of really good teams.  I think everyone knows this could be a year that really helps put us on the map.  We will be well equipped to do that.

Going back to the Pinstripe Bowl, away from the game itself, what was the best part of the experience?  

Being back in New York City.  I was raised 30 minutes from there, so the whole week I had my teammates asking me where this was and how to get to that place.  It was great to be able to show my teammates the City and my home turf.  I also had so many family members able to watch me play at home, it was really great to have that opportunity.

We’ve touched on the disappointing aspects of last year and how the team struggled at times.  Anything in particular you can point to as the cause?

Consistency.  Especially as a defense.  We had some really good games, but then there were times we just crumbled.  I don’t know what it was, but we didn’t play as well as we could.

Last question, you’ve mentioned some young guys climbing up the chain this offseason.  Anyone in particular along the defensive line?

Marquies Price, Brandon Boyce, Edgar Cerenord, and Quaven Ferguson are guys I work with and notice.  With Boyce, he’s shorter than most defensive linemen, but he’s the most explosive guy I’ve seen.  Even though he could be considered undersized, he’s so strong and explosive, and he knows how to utilize his quickness.

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