One on One With Conner Vernon

After an incredibly strong rookie campaign that saw him emerge as one of Duke's top receiving targets, Conner Vernon is anxious to pick up where he left off a season ago. TDD spoke to the rising sophomore to get his take on the coming season.

TDD: Obviously you had a strong freshman season. What's the mindset heading into your sophomore campaign?

Conner Vernon: Honestly it's just a clean slate. You can't be satisfied with one season. I am approaching this year as if last season never happened. I'm going to show up each and every practice as if I have something to prove because I do.

So what is it you need to improve on?

I need to make sure I finish each and every play. Last year I caught myself not being as focused as I should have been here and there. I need to make myself be 100 percent locked in on each snap. That means knowing the plays and doing extra time in the film room.

One of the offense's biggest changes will be at quarterback. How does the unit move on from Thaddeus Lewis' career and into a new era?

It's definitely different out here. Obviously he was a great player and a three year starter who knew how to make plays and could make things easier for the receivers. However we have three terrific quarterbacks on campus, and another will be here in the summer. All of them bring different things to the team and each of them could step in and help.

Similarly, the receivers are coping with the loss of Coach Montgomery.

Losing Coach Mo was a big blow for us, but we were really happy for him. Getting a job with the Steelers is a really big accomplishment. Coach Lubbick got here a few days ago and he's really gone to work and it's helped us hit the ground running. In the few times he's worked with us he's already taught us a lot.

Getting back to the QB situation, Coach Cutcliffe named Sean Renfree the starter early on. You've played with Sean in practice and in a few games. As a receiver what are some of the differences he brings to the game from Thad?

Thad was a three year starter and knew the system from top to bottom, so he definitely had the experience edge over Sean. Sean has great mechanics and he really throws a great, catchable ball. We are all excited to see what he brings to the team this season.

Aside from the returning starters, which receivers do you notice as potential breakout players this season?

Tyree Watkins is making a lot of plays so far this spring as is Cory Gattis. Obviously Josh Trezvant has two years under his belt and he's using that experience. Another guy, Tony Foster, has also been really good. We have a lot of young players who are going to push to get on the field, which makes everyone better.

When lining up, who is the one Duke defensive back you see and think 'uh-oh, this is going to be a tough rout'?

That whole unit has been pretty tough so far. They are fast and physical. I've been matched up with Chris Rwabukamba and Ross Cockrell a lot so far. I've also had a few chances to face Johnny Williams. He's going to be a really good defensive back.

Being a former receiver, you'd think there's a friendly rivalry there.

Definitely. We [the current receivers] mess with him and there's a lot of back and forth when one of us lines up across from him. We're each trying to make plays and he's doing well. I think his time as a receiver will make him that much better as a defensive back.

After putting together the program's most successful season in decades, what's the team's mindset going into 2010?

We're not satisfied. We didn't finish like we started last year. We are working each and every day to make a bowl game. To win every time we step on the field. We don't want to just make a bowl, we want to get there and win a bowl. I think we proved last year that we can play at the ACC level. But we want more than that. It's why we come and work so hard each day.


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