With the impending departure of redshirt freshman Gene Delle Donne and the loss of upperclassmen Mike Schneider and Curt Dukes, Duke was left with just two scholarship players under center heading into spring practice. On Wednesday, the Blue Devils earned the final commitment of the recruiting year when Thaddeus Lewis, the No. 65 rated quarterback in the nation, picked Duke over offers from Michigan State, Pittsburg, Texas Christian, and South Florida.
Lewis will, by default, enter the summer in the No. 3 spot on the depth chart but is likely to challenge both Zack Asack and Marcus Jones for reps under center when the Blue Devils open the season in fall. Considered a dual threat quarterback, Lewis is an outstanding athlete who can makes plays with either his legs or his arm. After a junior season that saw interest in Lewis wane, the 6-foot-2,185 pound signal caller jumped back on to the national radar screen in 2005 with 1,237 yards and 12 touchdowns while only throwing three interceptions. The key to Lewis' improvement was a return to the basics that saw the newest Blue Devil work on improving his accuracy and arm strength, while maintaining his trademarked mobility.
Shortly after signing day 2005, Lewis was ranked among the 30 best prospects in the state of Florida by FloridaKids.us.
Total Commits: (1)
Likely To Play in 2006: Thad Lewis
Redshirt Bound: None
Projected Impact: Lewis will enter college as the default third string quarterback at Duke. Depending on the speed at which he learns the Blue Devil offensive system, he could challenge for the backup role in 2006. He will likely see some action during the season under center
Ever since Alex Wade left Durham, the Blue Devils have been in search of a bruising power back to compliment those who can get to the corner and burn defenders with sheer speed and quickness. That need was filled with one of the best prospects in the entire class when Pennsylvania native Brandon King picked Duke over offers from Oklahoma, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Minnesota, and Vanderbilt.
Though Scout.com does not distinguish running back ratings between fullbacks and tailbacks, at least one analyst reported King was the "best fullback I've seen this year".
Total Commits: (1)
Likely To Play in 2006: None
Redshirt Bound: Brandon King
Projected Impact: Though he could challenge for time in 2006, it's likely King will spend his first season adding muscle and learning the offense.
The recurring theme for receiver prospects in 2006 was height. After losing Missouri's Quentin Davie to second thoughts, the Blue Devils are left with a pair of huge "catchers" in the forms of Jeremy Ringfield and Sheldon Bell.
Bell, who hails from the Baltimore area, stands 6-foot-5 and that may be a bit conservative. After attending the Duke football camp as a junior, Bell returned to Duke for a combine in 2005 and soon after earned an offer from Coach Roof. That was all it took and the commitment was done on April 5, 2005 – making Sheldon the first member of the class of 2006.
Meanwhile, Ringfield picked the Blue Devils on June 24th over an offer from Maryland and interest from such schools as Florida and Georgia Tech. Like Bell, Ringfield measures out at 6-foot-5 and checks in with a respectable 4.70 time in the forty yard dash.
Total Commits: (2)
Likely To Play in 2006: Jeremy Ringfield
Redshirt Bound: Sheldon Bell
Projected Impact: Both Ringfield and Bell will need to improve their strength before making a serious impact at the college level. Last season several Blue Devils had trouble fighting through Jams at the line of scrimmage. That will likely be a problem facing both at the outset of their college careers. However, given the general lack of depth at the receiver position, it isn't out of the question for one, or perhaps both, to see some playing time as true freshmen – especially if the offense becomes more aggressive and delivers on the promises of being more dynamic.
Though some fans and analysts were skeptical of William Ball when he committed to Duke in late August, the simple fact remains that Ball produced very good numbers against some of the best competition the state of Texas has to offer. Perhaps the reason Ball flew under the radar so dramatically was an injury that prevented him from camping well last summer. Still, he was receiving several interested feelers from schools such as Stanford, and was discussing a possible gray shirt situation with Texas after the Horns committed two TE prospects over the summer at those camps.
On the other hand Brett Huffman wasn't injured last summer, and he certainly made his mark at the Duke football camp. An unknown when he arrived in Durham in June, Huffman proved to be one of the top five players in attendance and ended up leaving with a three star rating and, more importantly, a Duke offer. With college ready strength and good technique, look for Huffman on the field at some point in 2005.
Total Commits: (2)
Likely To Play in 2006: Brett Huffman
Redshirt Bound: William Ball
Projected Impact: Ball projects as an H-back in the Duke system. He'll spend his first year red-shirting and learning the system while adding weight and muscle in the weight room. Meanwhile Huffman's strength and size make him a likely candidate to dress in the royal and white when Duke opens the 2006 season against Richmond.
The focus of the class of 2005 was the defensive line, and the Duke coaching staff filled that need in a big way by bringing in star power recruits such as Vince Oghobaase, Ayanga Okpokowuruk, and Clifford Respress. In 2006 the priority was once again in the trenches – only this time on the offensive side of the ball. A disturbing trend in recent years has been the turnover in the starting O-line from year to year. While that will once again be a problem in 2006, it should begin to subside shortly thereafter thanks to this group.
In all there are eight prospects who could end up along the line at some point in the near future, though at the time of this article we are projecting six led by two prospects from the state of Florida – Jarrod Holt and Marcus Lind. Both have tremendous size and both sport tremendous offer sheet that include teams such as North Carolina State, Miami, Tennessee, Clemson, Auburn, Maryland, West Virginia, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi respectively. Each rated as a three star prospect (though several talent evaluators concede Lind is a strong candidate for a fourth star), Holt verballed to Duke on June 25th, while Lind picked the Blue Devils in January of 2006.
Rob Drum, a 6-foot-7, 265 pounder from Alabama, picked Duke on October 10th over heavy interest from Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi, along with offers from Louisville, and Georgia Tech.
One of the more intriguing prospects is Florida lineman John Lubischer, who spent his career as a tight end, but could prove to be a very good prospect as center along the Duke line. Lubischer picked Duke over offers from NC State, Clemson, Mississippi, Connecticut, and Colorado State after visiting on January 13th.
The final two linemen have a load of potential according to most analysts, with load being the operative word. The first is rated as the No. 6 prospect in the state of Wisconsin, Mitch Lederman, a 6-foot-7, 320 pound mountain posing as a man. The Blue Devils were the first program to offer Lederman a scholarship and he jumped on it in July. The second big prospect is Jeffrey Cowart, a 6-foot-6, 300 pounder, hailing from Georgia. Using the Georgia pipeline of connections, Duke earned his commitment on November 8th.
Total Commits: (6)
Likely To Play in 2006: Jarrod Holt, and possibly either Lind or Pontus Bondeson (see DL)
Redshirt Bound: Mitch Lederman, Jeffrey Cowart, John Lubischer, Rob Drum
Projected Impact: Holt has the size and plays with the kind of ‘nasty streak' needed to see as a true freshman on an offensive line that will once again be working through turnover. Both Lind, and perhaps Bondeson have the skills and physical gifts to play as true freshmen, but there will be a question surrounding their adjustment not only to a new system, but also adjusting to getting further settled in as American college students.
Drum, Lederman, Cowart, and Lubischer all project as very good players will be provide Duke a foundation on the offensive line for many years to come. However all will greatly benefit from a year in the system as well as full year in the Duke weight training program.
Like the offensive line, there are a few Blue Devils who could line up on either side of the trenches. Perhaps the most noteworthy is Sweden's Pontus Bondeson, who committed to Duke in late January. Checking in at 6-foot-6 and 290 pounds, Bondeson has the potential to provide the Blue Devils with instant help on either side of the ball. He currently projects as a defensive tackle, but could be moved to the offensive line after the summer.
While Bondeson may be the most college ready of the D-line follow up class, it's Florida defensive end Tyler Rice who is the highest rated, earning four star classification from Scout.com while being named the No. 32 defensive end in the nation. Rice became the second member of the entire class when he verbally committed to the Blue Devils on May 19th. At 6-foot-4 and a solid 240 pounds, Rice has 4.7 speed in the forty and made a habit of getting into the backfield against improved competition as a senior.
Georgia prospect Brandon Harper's initial claim to fame on the recruiting trail is an unreal list of accomplishments in the weight room such as a 400 pound bench, a 500 pound squat, and a 305 pound power clean. Harper was offered by Duke just as several other programs began their initial evaluations after hearing rave reviews coming from Alpharetta.
Yet another big time prospect is found along the D-Line in the form of three star Texan Wesley Oglesby. It's unclear if Oglesby will end up as a tight end or a rush end at this point, but given the depth already at the tight end position, it's likely that Wes will start his career as a rush end and ultimately redshirt.
A pair of players hoping to make their own mark on the collegiate game round out the Duke class on the defensive line led by Patrick Egboh, the brother of Stanford All-American Panel Egboh and Ifreke Okpokowuruk, the younger brother of redshirt freshman Ayanga. Patrick chose Duke over an offer from Tulane and was in the process of going through the admissions department at Stanford, while Duke was the only offer for Ifreke.
Total Commits: (6)
Likely To Play in 2006: Pontus Bondeson
Redshirt Bound: Wes Oglesby, Brandon Harper, Patrick Egboh, Ifreke Okpokowuruk
Projected Impact: Bondeson has a chance to crack the rotation if he does, in fact, end up lining up on the offensive line more so than if he sticks with his current projection as a defensive tackle. Again, as noted above, that decision isn't likely to be finalized until the end of the summer workouts. Harper has the strength to play as a true freshman, but is still very raw and will need to drill on the finer points of technique before being able to really earn a good deal of playing time as true freshman. Rice will likely use his first year preparing to make a big splash in 2007. Both Egboh and Okpokowuruk will also likely redshirt.
Last year the coaching staff struck recruiting gold with the late signing of Mike Brown. All Brown did was go on to start much of the season, while leading the team in tackles en route to being named a Freshman First Team All-American. This season Duke will look for another impact linebacker, and that order may have been filled with the commitment of Vincent Rey of Mercersburg, Pa. Rey, a 6-foot-1, 255 pound, three star prospect is rated as the No. 77 linebacker in the nation according to Scout.com. he spent a year at Mercersburg Academy prepping to make an impact at age 19 at the collegiate level.
Joining Rey is Andrew Holoman, a 6-foot-3, 215 pound Virginia native who picked Duke over interest from several big time programs including Virginia, Georgia Tech, and Penn State – all of whom had asked for more game tape before making a decision on an offer. Holoman camped with the Blue Devils over the summer and ultimately earned an offer.
Total Commits: (2)
Likely To Play in 2006: Vincent Rey
Redshirt Bound: Andrew Holoman
Overall Impact: Rey will have a chance to play as a true freshman thanks to his speed and size. Able to clog up the middle, behind what should be a much improved defensive line, the linebacking corps is a big variable heading into the 2006 season. If Rey can deliver early results as Brown did a season ago, then the Duke defense shores up even more from a talent perspective, though experience will still be something that will have to be earned on the fly. Holoman is a likely redshirt.
After missing the 2005 season, Duke will welcome back sophomore cornerback Jabari Marshall when the summer session kicks off in June. Joining Marshall will be a number of fast and talented prospects. From Florida comes Leon Wright, a three star prospect who chose Duke over offers from West Virginia, Akron, and Ball State. Chris Rwabukamba continues the international flair of this class by importing from Canada. Both he and Wright project as speedy cornerbacks with good size and terrific, 4.5 40 speed. Wright checks in as the No. 64 cornerback in the nation, while Rwabukamba is slotted as the No. 78 CB.
Another prospect who is considered part of the class of 2006 is Buford, Ga. standout Matt Pridemore. After arriving at the Duke one day camp in June to a couple of "who on earth is this guy" looks and comments, Pridemore proved to be one of the five best looking recruits at the entire event. He recorded a vertical jump over 34" and clocked in with a pair of 4.5 times in the forty. Add in a good number of reps on the bench press (185lbs) and it equaled an offer and, soon after, commitment to Duke. Pridemore, however, suffered a shoulder injury that will require surgery and so he is expected to grayshirt, and enroll in January.
The safety position gained some more depth as well with the late addition of Abraham Kromah of Staten Islands, N.Y. The 6-foot-1, 205 pounder committed to his long time leader after finally making an official visit to Durham on January 13th. The 6-foot-1, 205 pounder chose Duke over interest from Boston College, Maryland, and others. He has been clocked with a 4.6 forty.
The other safety prospect is the product of an ever growing Georgia pipeline for the Blue Devils. Catron Gainey, a 6-foot-1, 195 pounder from Hephzibah High chose Duke before either Georgia Tech or Vanderbilt could futher their recruitment.
Total Commits: (5)
Likely To Play in 2006: Leon Wright
Redshirt Bound: Catron Gainey Chris Rwabukamba, Abraham Kromah, Matt Pridemore (grayshirt)
Overall Impact: It may be a coin flip to see if which of Wright or Rwabukamba cracks the rotation in the defensive secondary in 2006. And there is a real chance that neither will play. However, given Duke's recent string of bad luck with injuries, it's a safe bet that either of these two speedsters will see time either in coverage or as kick returners. Kromah has the physical tools to make an impact, but he still has much to learn, as do all first year DBs and will likely serve as a close understudy of Adrian Aye-Darko at the safety slot.
Last season Duke earned the commitment of Joe Surgan, who was considered one of the four best kickers in the entire nation. This season the Blue Devils once again landed one of the best special teamers in the country with the commitment of Kevin Jones, who Scout.com considers the No. 4 punter in America. Jones will enter Duke in a projected battle with the returning Alex Feinberg for the starting punter's slot. Sadly, the Blue Devil punters have been earning a lot of work in the past few years.
Total Commits: (1)
Likely To Play in 2006: Kevin Jones
Redshirt Bound: None
Overall Impact: Jones, who stands 6'4 and tips the scales at 215lbs was recruited with idea of stepping in and booting the ball down the field whenever the Blue Devil offense stalled. Hopefully he won't get that chance too much in 2006, but heading to Duke he has to be considered to have a very good shot at landing the starting gig in the fall.
Total Commits: (26)
Likely to Play: Eight or Nine
Redshirt Bound: 18
Overall Impact: Overall this class doesn't have a Vince Oghobaase star level recruit. While both Lind and Bondeson could be considered on that level, neither have the exposure that was enjoyed by Vince a year ago. However, despite the lack of a US Army Game level prospect, the Blue Devils have pulled in a very good group of players that will further cement an already talented foundation that was brought in a season ago. Prior to last season, this year's haul would have been considered among the best in Duke football history, and it may well prove that the top 40 percent of this year's crop will make an impact or earn spots in the rotation faster than last year's group – especially along the offensive line.
The recruiting prowess has significantly improved in a very short time in Durham. The class of 2004 had just two three star prospects in the entire group. The class of 2005 had eight three stars, two four stars, and one five star prospect.
The class of 2006 will finish up with a count of eight more three star prospects, and two four star prospects – though at least one of the three stars narrowly missed four star status. And while the excitement continues to build with the improved recruiting, the sad fact is that football is not like basketball. Recruits rarely are able to make an instant impact on the collegiate level – especially along the lines where Duke needs the most help. Still the 26 incoming players are the next step in the road to restoring Duke football.
The class of 2007 will be the year of the skill position.