Duke goes through annual ACC Football Kickoff

Charlotte, NC – Duke defensive tackle DeWayne Carter, running back Mataeo Durant, quarterback Gunnar Holmberg and head coach David Cutcliffe took part in the annual ACC Football Kickoff on Wednesday at the Westin Charlotte in Charlotte, N.C. The trio went through approximately seven hours of interviews, photo shoots and on-screen appearances in front of nearly 450 credentialed members of the media. 

Duke head football coach at 2021 ACC Football Kickoff (photo by Gene Galin)

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Cutcliffe.

Q. Ended the season at Notre Dame, held them to no first downs in the first quarter. Until they had a fake punt that worked, you were dominating the game. From that promising start, what were some of the factors that happened to cause Duke’s season to get away from you?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: That’s the first time I’ve been asked that question. We asked ourselves that quite a bit as reviewed during the season.

I thought we played well. We were healthier than we had been. We had an unusual off-season where 140 days our team was not together, couldn’t come to campus. I think there were so many different factors.

But in the end, as I viewed it, I learned a lot of lessons for a 45th year of coaching just how important my job as a head coach is of putting everybody in the best position they can be.

There are no excuses. You go play to win, and regardless of what your team looks like. I think I learned the culture, the chemistry of a team is built from January. I’ve had an old saying, there’s an old farmer’s saying that you plant well in the spring or beg well come fall. I think I realized more and more how critically important planting from January all the way through the summer is to be able to sustain a season.

I’m very proud of those young people. Their commitment to each other was impressive. I wished I would have put them in a better position to be successful. But I think that all that we went through will be a part of who we are the rest of our lives.

So I’m not going to blow that season off as a loss. I think we learned a great deal.

Q. You led the nation in turnovers last year. How do you emphasize and discipline and get that message to your team about ball security?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: That is not the first time I’ve heard that question (smiling). Rightfully so.

Obviously, we have studied that. I’ve never had an issue with that in my career until the last two years. Again, that goes back to habits. It goes back to a head coach. You select the people on the staff, the players, everybody involved. You create a practice schedule that creates good habits, if you’re doing a good job.

But then most importantly you evaluate it. I’ve gone back and looked at practice tape, just random Tuesday and Wednesday practices. If you’re not doing everything you should do, every drill matters when it comes to ball security. It matters that your team, and I believe these young men believe me, they have to do a better job of giving them ownership.

If you rant and rave about ball security, it’s like being in a slump or when I couldn’t hit free throws, whatever. The more you hear negative, maybe the tougher it gets to get out of that slump.

I’m asking our squad to own their habits. I’m asking our staff collectively to own that habit. But my job, it still falls on David Cutcliffe to ensure as a head football coach this is all happening right.

So I take full responsibility. And if you don’t take care of the football, you’re not going to win. That’s been the biggest issue we have faced on the scoreboard. The only statistic that really matters is points per game. I don’t know of anything that affects it more than turning the ball over because every one of those you’re not scoring.

Q. Name, image and likeness is something that is obviously surrounding all of collegiate athletics right now. Being a coach as you have for so many years, what can you say about what you know of it and what you think of it as we step forward?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: I’ve been fortunate to serve on different NCAA committees, including the Football Oversight Committee. Had a lot of previous conversations. I think it’s a great thing that a player has the opportunity to own and build their image.

I told our players name, image and likeness, we used to call it reputation. Let’s not forget that as you build this.

The intention is for a player to be able to build an image and benefit from it. There’s a lot of ways you can do it, through even social media. You don’t need representation. You can give private lessons at an appropriate time.

What you can’t do with name, image and likeness is get so carried away with it that you erode your image. It can be a dangerous thing.

It also should not be a part of the recruiting climate. I winched when I saw a quote from a state legislator, We have to get this law passed, this is hurting us in recruiting. That’s not the intent of this. The intent, again, is ownership that’s earned. That’s a fair assessment of life.

I think my job as a coach is to really try to help parents and players understand, not only once they’re in your program but in the recruiting process, that this is not a good selection of a school based on if that’s what you’re looking for. That’s never been the premium value of college football.

It’s been my whole life college football. So I embrace the opportunity. I think it’s great. But I think a lot of people are going to have to learn how to manage it, not just players, families, coaches, media. There’s a lot of responsibility to our great game to make sure that we’re very good to our players with this in an appropriate manner.

Q. Can you walk us through the recruitment of Gunnar Holmberg and his progress to this point.

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, Gunnar started recruiting me (laughter). No, I’m just kidding, Gunnar.

Gunnar game into quarterback camp and was just so impressive as an athlete, as an enthusiastic young quarterback. Right off of bat, I don’t remember if you remember this, Gunnar, but your 40 was 4.5. It popped my eyes wide open. His character.

Then as we recruited Gunnar, the story surrounding Gunnar ended up in our area, getting to know his mom, what a great mom she had been after Gunnar’s father had lost his life, just how close the three — his sister, his mom, and he — were throughout all of this.

Watching him develop not only as a player but as a person has been extremely important for me. To see his mother celebrate his success. He’s a graduate student. Can you believe that? I never got to be a graduate student. My grades got in the way. I’d have been a Rhodes scholar if it hadn’t been for my grades, Gunnar.

But he’s a graduate student. Just really proud of him.

Q. There’s a lot of turnover on the roster this year. You are bringing just under half your starters. What positional group are you looking forward to most see progress this season?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: It depends upon how you look at our team as far as the number of starters returning.

I think the biggest challenge that we would face is the loss in the defensive line. But we got a lot of young talent. We’ve got more depth than we’ve had at that position. Competition always strengthens a team.

So DeWayne and I have talked a lot about that recently. He obviously is a very experienced player. But I’m excited about what they’re going to do. I’m excited about every position we have.

Really, I think this team, since we’ve been at Duke, and this is going into year 14, has the most balance and competition at every position. That is always in my past made a football team better.

Q. Last year the ACC went with no divisional play. This year you’re back to divisions. Having experienced both now, which do you prefer? Does it even really matter?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: I personally like — I’ve been part of division play in the Southeastern Conference. I think it creates more excitement for the player to have the opportunity to win a division championship so you get into November where college football gets really serious, where champions are determined. You’re going to end up having five or six teams in the hunt for an opportunity to be an ACC champion with division play. I think it’s the better way to go.

It’s no different than you’d see in professional sports. You’re trying to win your division. So I think it’s much more player-friendly than the other way.

Q. You’re opening with two Friday games on the schedule. When you talk about forming habits, routine, what does that mean for your preparation? Do you think it’s an advantage for you to start off with the Friday games whereas other teams have those later in the season?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: We’ve got two Fridays and a Thursday. They present challenges. If we’re going to play on Fridays, and we are in college football, then I do like Friday-Friday rather than a Saturday and then a Friday, et cetera. The short weeks are what gets hard.

I don’t think there’s any advantage to any of it. I do think early in the season if I’m going to do it I’d rather do it there because we do have a little time as a staff on Saturday to really evaluate the game, catch up, then you got a Sunday following that.

But I’ve gone into a lot of detail with our practice schedules already. It requires a lot of overtime work in the summer. So it is always going to be a challenge to play on a
non-traditional day.


DeWayne Carter

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. Last year you played in stadiums that were basically empty. What was that like? How much are you looking forward to actually having crowds? How much does that add to the experience?

DEWAYNE CARTER: Yes, sir. Great question.

I mean, I’ve answered this earlier today, I said the most thing I’m looking forward to is having my mother and father back in the stands to witness a lot of my firsts which they missed last year.

It kind of weighs on you when you are at your home stadium, you got people doing the wave, but it’s cardboard cutouts. You know how the crowd can play into momentum swings in a game, everything else that goes into it. It’s going to be a great feeling.

Q. Chris and Victor moved onto the NFL. What did you take away from them on and off the field?

DEWAYNE CARTER: Most importantly on the field, I took away from both of those guys how they pursue the quarterback, how they pursue the running back, how they give their all every snap no matter what the score may be.

And then off the field in the film room, I have a very intelligent position coach named Benjamin Albert who imparts that knowledge on them, and then seeing how they carry themselves in the film room, how they prepare, how they study teams, how they study scheme, how they study individual players. It’s kind of something that stuck with me from day one. That’s really what I took most away from them.

Q. Every school that you face has an experienced quarterback. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much quarterback experience before. How does that complicate your preparation as a defensive player?

DEWAYNE CARTER: Yes, sir. Actually going back to my recruiting days, my parents and I, we talked about how the ACC is so wide open, it’s straight athletes back there.

Pursuing the quarterback week in and week out will be something we prep for every single year, but this year in specific. I mean, you got guys from UNC, Miami, Georgia Tech, whoever it may be, we game plan, put in different schemes, different games. You have to adjust how you pursue the quarterback in terms of, when you do get back there on those wide-open things, you can’t just run out because you know those guys will be able to spin, break more tackles. They’re more elusive.

It plays into the mind game, the mental game of the game each week. So that’s really what it is, more mental preparation from our coaches, which they do a great job.

Q. 419 points allowed last year. What are the key elements in practice this year to get that number as low as it can be on game day?

DEWAYNE CARTER: Yes, sir. This year what you’re going to see from this defense is a defense that likes to fly around, run to the ball, play hard. We’re going to be disciplined. Emphasis for us is tackling, as well as stopping the run. That’s what we lacked in the back half of the season. This year our focus is disciplining, strength.

When we get down the line, you get in November, December, whatever it may be, we’re not going to have those lapses.

Mataeo Durant

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: We’ll take questions, please.

Q. Last year you shared the backfield with Deon. How are you preparing this year to be the main focus of the backfield?

MATAEO DURANT: The key is more preparation. I still dig into Deon a lot. I call him. I ask him tips on how he prepared for the upcoming season. Now the onus is on me, as one of the oldest backs in the room, to help everyone prepare also.

Q. Gunnar Holmberg, this will be his first year. How has he looked to you during spring, off-season? Do you think he’ll be ready to take on the leadership role as the quarterback of this team?

MATAEO DURANT: Yes, sir. Gunnar has always looked great. I’ve known Gunnar since a junior in high school. We always built that relationship.

Now I’m glad that he’s going to be able to get the opportunity to showcase his skills because he’s a very talented quarterback, he’s an unquestionable leader, he always make sure the team is fine whether it’s on the field or outside the field.

I’m ready for him to get his opportunity to shine.

Q. Without Deon, what have you done this off-season to prepare your body physically for the increased workload?

MATAEO DURANT: I just been able to get in prehab and rehab, make sure everything is great. Also get the younger players ready who are under me. You never know what’s going to happen. Preparation is always key.

Me and the younger players will go out, do a lot of individual drills, a lot of things we need to work on prior to the season. That also help build the depth in the backfield,

which we have.

Q. Going into this season knowing what you’ve been able to accomplish already at Duke, but having to share that backfield, leadership-wise where have you gained the most skill maybe on and off the field? What should we expect from you this year?

MATAEO DURANT: Leadership-wise I’ve grown as a leader being that I’m one of the most experienced backs in our running back room. I talk to a lot of younger players on things that we need on the field and outside the field because if you act right outside the field, that will relay over. We just building more trust and everything.

For the upcoming season, I’m just focused on winning as a team. The individual things come, but the most important thing is winning.

Q. How much does a crowd affect the way that you prepare, how well you play a game? How does that factor into it?

MATAEO DURANT: Crowd factor, you know, it’s a big thing, especially when you going into stadiums like Virginia Tech and Miami. The crowd is always lively. It’s just a discipline factor that you have to be able to lock in, know what your plays, game plan is, be prepared to run any plays you get.


Gunnar Holmberg

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. Your cousin Maddie almost made the Olympic team. Who is the best athlete in the family? You have a lot of college athletes over generations in your family. Do you take that for granted or does that motivate you?

GUNNAR HOLMBERG: First of all, I want to thank you for that article you wrote. That was a great article. I appreciate you telling my story, letting my mom get in on that. Maddie is a stud. We’ve all been track runners. I ran track up until high school. She’s always been fast. We go against each other. I think nowadays she might get me. So I’ll give that crown to Maddie.

Growing up, I think that’s really what gave my love to college football, to football in general. Always hearing the stories about my uncle who played at Penn State, was a linebacker under Joe Paterno. I’m always learning from him, kind of wanting to see what that experience is like. Really cool to learn from.

Especially nowadays, he’s a phone call away, I can reach out to him if I have any questions. Calming the nerves. He played quarterback in high school, but he was a linebacker, like I say, at Penn State. He knows a lot about football, if I have questions I can reach out to him. Definitely a good guy to have in my corner.

Q. David Cutcliffe has known how to train a quarterback or two. What is it like to have this coach at this position for you?

GUNNAR HOLMBERG: Yeah, I mean, it’s pretty much the main reason I came to Duke, was to learn under Coach Cutcliffe. I got to meet Peyton and Eli over the weekend, going to the Manning Passing Academy, just seeing their knowledge on the game, it’s like a mirror, all stuff I heard from Coach Cut. It’s good to see, seeing it come to fruition, see how real it is.

Learning from Daniel was really cool, seeing the way he attacked the film room, seeing the way he worked, off the field, the way he treated people, I think was big-time. It’s all the stuff that Coach Cut preaches.

Really being able to see guys put into the real world and on the field is big-time. Just really grateful to be underneath him.

Q. I got to see some of your games in high school. I remember against Wake Forest High School you led two impressive touchdown drives. Three-time state champion.

GUNNAR HOLMBERG: Yeah, they were.

Q. Talk about the learning curve from that moment, which was a pretty high level, to being the quarterback at Duke University? What have you had to absorb and adapt to?

GUNNAR HOLMBERG: I think just knowing everybody in this league is going to be very talented, similar to Wake Forest High School, talented team, Dexter Lawrence and all them went there. Playing against them was always a really good time.

I think even now, my freshman year, understanding how much you have to learn not even the opposing team’s defense but your own offense, just how long that takes to learn and the learning curve in that. Seeing a guy like Daniel who just had total command over it, Quentin Harris, their command over the offense I think was big-time.

Yeah, like I say, even the time it took for me to get here, I’ve always said it’s a blessing in disguise, just from giving me time to be able to be very comfortable with our offense. I’ve been in the system enough to where I’ve seen what type of defenses guys in our division play, be comfortable with them, familiar with them.

Like I say, the learning curve, it took a little bit. Like I said, I think learning from guys before me helped out a lot.

Q. It’s highly publicized, the adversity you’ve had to deal with off the field, family, injuries. How has everything you’ve been through off the field prepared you for the next challenge, a starting quarterback in the ACC?

GUNNAR HOLMBERG: I think that goes a long way, dealing with adversity throughout your life. I’ve always said it, when you go to college, college football, the program you walk into, it’s probably never going to go the way you planned it.

I think I learned that from Dan, Quentin, hearing their stories, even people within my family that have played college football, played a bunch of sports, seeing the adversity they’ve gone through, how you handle it.

I think you also have to step back from the game, understand it’s really just the game you love, the game you grew up playing. Just really enjoy it, embrace it. Like I say, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m just trying to enjoy the ride while I’m here.

Q. What adjustments of your game have you been most focused on refining as you prepare for stepping into the starting role?

GUNNAR HOLMBERG: Yeah, I think just being consistent and being confident, whether that’s telling the play to the guys in the huddle, being consistent with things like accuracy. Ball security was of course a big focus for us in spring coming off this season. Really just being a guy that guys on the team can ask any question to regarding the offense, whether that’s an O-lineman, running back, wide receiver, always making sure I have the right answer to that so I can help them out. Continue to fill my shoes as the leader of this team the upcoming season.

Q. Beyond points on the scoreboard, how do you define ‘win’?

GUNNAR HOLMBERG: Yeah, I think you define ‘win’, of course what Coach Cut says, points per game. I think it’s also what you take out of that game, what you learn from it. If you lose a game, a close game, which pretty much every game in this division is going to be a close game coming down to the fourth quarter, you have to learn to take away from that kind of your mistakes, what you did well. I think you can learn a lot from your team, kind of the style that you guys want to play from that.

But like I say, I think it all comes down to what you can take away from that game, implement that into your next week, try to build on wins. At the end of the day that’s what we’re playing for.

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Blue Devil Network was on hand to help capture the event and caught up with each throughout the experience. ACC Network hosted each of the four on the air for a live interview as part of its Kickoff coverage. 

Duke season tickets are available online at GoDuke.com/footballtix or by calling the Duke Athletic Ticket Office at 919-681-BLUE.