Practice Starts Today

DURHAM, N.C. -- Hoping to build on a foundation established during the 2008 season, the Duke football program opens practice for the 2009 campaign Thursday evening. The Blue Devils will kick off the year on September 5 at home against Richmond at 7 p.m. in Wallace Wade Stadium.

"We've had a productive summer with our weight room work and conditioning exercises, but now it is time to focus on preseason camp," said senior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, who as a starter for the past three seasons has thrown for 6,735 yards, the fourth highest total in Duke history. "This team has a lot to prove. We haven't accomplished anything yet. We have goals, but if we don't take care of the little things over the next couple of weeks, it won't matter."

The Blue Devils return 12 starters from last year's squad that went 4-8 under first-year head coach David Cutcliffe. The four victories equaled the total from the previous four seasons combined, and Cutcliffe provided the program with a boost of enthusiasm that yielded four home crowds of 30,000 or more fans for the first time in school history.

"Last year we were a good football team with a bad record," Cutcliffe said. "I'm certainly anxious to see how we respond this season."

Lewis, an All-ACC pick last year after throwing for 2,171 yards and 15 touchdowns against just six interceptions, leads the offense that also returns starting offensive linemen Kyle Hill and Bryan Morgan. Jay Hollingsworth, last year's leading rusher, is back for his second season in the program while Re'quan Boyette, who led Duke in rushing in both 2006 and 2007, returns after missing the 2008 season due to injury. Sophomores Johnny Williams and Donovan Varner pace the receiving corps after catching 30 and 21 passes, respectively, last season.

Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's outlook is simple.

"I think the understanding of the offense has to be vastly improved compared to where we were this time last year," Roper said. "We have a lot of guys that played a lot of football that should be further along, and that allows you to grow more as an offense each week."

Duke's defense is highlighted by seniors Vince Oghobaase and Vincent Rey. A redshirt senior defensive tackle and honorable mention All-ACC choice in 2008, Oghobaase was named to the media's preseason all-league unit last month. He begins his final season as a Blue Devil ranking second among active players in the ACC in career tackles for loss (29.0) and third in sacks (11.5).

Rey, a senior linebacker, is the only player in the ACC to have posted 100 or more tackles in each of the past two seasons. His productivity landed him among the top five players in tackles per game average in both 2007 and 2008.

Other returning starters on defense include safety Catron Gainey (66 tackles in 2008), defensive end Ayanga Okpokowuruk (29 tackles & 3.5 sacks in 2008) and cornerback Leon Wright (5 career interceptions).

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