With former Callaway Cavalier Jamal Bruce providing a helping hand, Duke isn’t just a basketball school any more.
The 2013 football season was one of the best in the history of the Duke football program, and Bruce did his part.
Bruce started every game at nose guard, and he helped the Blue Devils make it to the ACC championship game where they lost to eventual national champion Florida State.
The Blue Devils went 10-4, and even though they lost their final two games to Florida State and to Texas A&M in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, they set a school record for wins.
Duke built off of its 2012 season where it won six games and made it to a bowl game for the first time since 1994,
“Everybody around here is happy with what we did the last two years, and everybody is excited about this year coming up,” Bruce said on Wednesday from Durham, N.C., where he’s participating in the off-season conditioning program. “Our goal is to go 12-0.”
Bruce arrived at Duke in 2010 after a standout high-school career.
During his four years at Callaway, the team had a pair of 10-wins seasons, and it was in the state playoffs four times, including one trip to the quarterfinals.
Bruce was red-shirted in 2010, and in 2011, he played in all 12 games.
Bruce was slated to be a starter in 2012, but he missed the first six games while recovering from offseason foot surgery.
Bruce played in the final seven games, and he got the starting nod for the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati.
Bruce entered the 2013 season healthy and solidified as a starter, and he went out and had a big year.
While he was only 11th on the team with 33 tackles, he plays a position that doesn’t lend itself to big tackle totals.
Bruce said he has gotten more comfortable each season, and he’s grateful for all of the help he has received.
“My teammates have helped,” Bruce said. “And also, we have coaches that really believe in the system we have, and the players that they have.”
Bruce’s first two seasons in Durham didn’t yield much in the way of team success, with the Blue Devils going 3-9 in 2010 and 2011.
Things began to turn in 2012 under head coach David Cutcliffe, with the Blue Devils winning the most games since they went 8-4 in 1994.
Still, the Blue Devils finished with their 18th consecutive losing season.
Then came the 2013 explosion.
The Blue Devils were 2-2 after back-to-back losses to Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech, but they followed that up with an eight-game winning streak.
After the loss to Florida State in the ACC title game, Duke was up big at halftime against Texas A&M, but with Johnny Manziel leading the way, the Aggies rallied for a 52-48 win.
Bruce said the excitement level as a new season approaches is as high as he has seen it during his time at Duke.
Bruce said there is even talk of having students camp out the nights before game, much like they do before some of the biggest basketball games.
“They experimented with it in the spring, it’s called Cut-ville,” Bruce said. “They’re trying to get it similar to (Krzyzewskiville) with the basketball team. It’s exciting to see stuff like that.”
Bruce said his experiences at Duke, both in football and beyond, have been everything he hoped for.
“It seems like every day, and every game, and every week is something new,” Bruce said. “It’s been different experiences. I’m always meeting someone. I’m having fun up here.”
Bruce has also applied himself in the classroom, and earlier this month, he received a bachelor’s degree.
Members of his family were there for the ceremony, as was Callaway football coach Pete Wiggins and his wife Amy.
“It was really a blessing,” Bruce said. “One of the goals I had when I first came was to get a degree.”
At the moment, Bruce’s main emphasis is on being in the best possible condition heading into the season.
Many of the Blue Devils are participating in a summer conditioning program that is run by the players.
“Right now, we lift Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and then on Tuesday and Thursday we condition,” Bruce said. “We can’t meet with any coaches, so we’ve been running it ourselves, the players had. Older guys at each position group have been running it. That’s going pretty good.”
Duke opens its season on Aug. 30 against Elon.