New Attitude For Duke Says Alexander

Half way through the 2003 season it seemed as if it was going to be the same old story for the Blue Devils. Duke had lost four straight and was coming off a humiliating loss to Wake Forest. Soon after head coach Carl Franks was axed and Ted Roof took over. It has made all the difference in the world according to one rising senior.

"The biggest thing Coach Roof brings to the table is a real emphasis on being mentally tough," says rising senior defensive end Phillip Alexander. "The entire coaching staff has brought a new message to the team, and I think we are responding."

Indeed the Blue Devils began showing signs of life as soon as Roof was named interim coach. The first game of the Roof era saw Duke give NC State a scare in Wallace Wade, followed by a terrific effort in Knoxville, TN in which the Blue Devils were tied with the Volunteers at halftime.

Then came the streak buster as an inspired group of Blue Devils finally bought into Roof's message of playing with ‘one heartbeat' in a 41-17 pounding of Georgia Tech. For Alexander, and many others it was vindication after suffering through three straight winless ACC seasons.

"Coach Roof was the catalyst for the change in attitude around here. We realized that we needed to build a new image of Duke football – we know we can win, but we've got to pay the price and put in the time. Coach's work ethic helps us all work towards that. He's told us that we can't accept mediocrity any more, and he won't accept anything less than our best, and we shouldn't either."

Working hard to build the new image is something that the 6-foot-4, 235 pound Bronx, NY native is planning on both individually and in his new found role as a senior leader for the Devils heading into the 2004 season.

"We're going to push ourselves to the limit during our workouts this off season and in the preseason," said Alexander. "When you are working together like we are, you can forget the pain and that desire to take a drink of water and keep on pushing. We really believe we can start something special at Duke if we just put in the effort and work hard."

A team effort will certainly be needed as the Blue Devils will be looking to replace a number of seniors on both sides of the ball, leaving much of the starting lineup lacking some real game experience. However, Alexander believes that this team won't fall off as much as many people think.

"We've got a lot of young players who have been playing behind some others. They don't have the game experience, but they have gained some knowledge of what to do and they are all eager to step up and accept the challenge."

Still Alexander knows that being a senior means he'll have the chance to be an extension of the coaching staff on the field, especially with the relative inexperience that is sure to surround him on the field in key positions. In fact being a leader is one of his goals heading into his final season.

"Personally, my goals are to be more consistent and to try and lead this team on and off the field by example. We really don't have any set goals as far as wins and losses go, we just want to build our own identity and be successful. If we do the work, we feel that those things will take care of themselves."

Achieving those goals for Duke football have become more attainable thanks to the new Yoh football building and overall commitment to football by the Duke administration. In fact the changes are already sweeping through the program, and it's noticeable from the players' perspective.

"The new building is incredible," says Alexander. "It really brightens up our day knowing we are going to be able to use top of the line equipment."

As far as the fans go, one of the more frequent complaints heard last year surrounded the new uniforms which incorporated an awful lot of black, making it nearly impossible to read the numbers on the jerseys. However Alexander reports that the latest word is that Duke will be sporting new uniforms next year, though he cannot confirm exactly what the changes will be.

"That's what I've heard, but in all honesty we don't really care. We're focused on getting ready for the season."

During his junior season Alexander finished with 59 tackles and 6.5 sacks, while recovering two fumbles. He projects as the starter at the defensive end position heading into the season.

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