Duke football prepares for Military Bowl game under Mike Elko

Duke’s DeWayne Carter celebrates with Cam Dillon after sacking Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman during the second half of the Blue Devils’ final regular season game at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Durham, N.C.

Duke’s DeWayne Carter celebrates with Cam Dillon after sacking Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman during the second half of the Blue Devils’ final regular season game at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Durham, N.C.


For veteran Duke football players like DeWayne Carter, Jalon Calhoun and Jacob Monk, going through December bowl practices finally fulfilled the expectations that accompanied them to campus.

They were part of Duke’s 2019 recruiting class, joining the Blue Devils when the program had played in six bowl games over the previous seven seasons.

Three tortuous, losing seasons followed, including a 13-game ACC losing streak that led to a coaching change.

That move, of course, proved the right one as Duke, under ACC coach of the year Mike Elko, went 8-4 this season and is preparing to play UCF in the Dec. 28 Military Bowl at Annapolis, Maryland.

So Monday, Carter, Calhoun, Monk were among 15 remaining healthy players from the 2019 recruiting class practicing and finally getting ready for a bowl game.

“I haven’t been to one and the last time they went to one was my senior year in high school,” said Carter, a second-team, all-ACC pick at defensive tackle this season as a redshirt junior. “In college, it can be hard and you’re just saying `I can’t wait to get to the postseason.’ Get to see new places, get to do things for a week long with the guys. That’s what I’m excited for.”

Carter’s not only excited about this season and this bowl game, but also what could come next season.

Duke’s change in fortune on the field has a large number of players from that class planning to stick around to try for an even better record and bowl game assignment with the Blue Devils next season.

Rather than enter the NFL Draft, Carter said he’d rather play one more season for Elko at Duke before giving pro football a try.

“It makes it a lot easier to come back when you win,” Carter said. “That’s a big part, of course. I had a lot of fun this year flying around, playing the game we love. We showed that we can compete at the highest level in this conference.”

Monk, a starting right guard, and Calhoun, a starting wide receiver, are completing their fourth seasons of college football, having not redshirted in 2019 like Carter did. The NCAA’s COVID-era rules give them an extra season since 2020 doesn’t count against eligibility.

They plan to use it with the Blue Devils. So, too, does starting defensive tackle Ja’Mion Franklin, who transferred to Duke in 2021 after starting his career at Notre Dame in 2018. As Elko finishes his first season as Duke’s coach while managing the roster for next season, those choices complicate things for him. But that’s a good complication as he plots for even more success in the coming years.

“We got the majority of our recruiting for this (2023) class done in the summer,” Elko said. “In the summer, you looked at this roster, Ja’Mion Franklin, Jalon Calhoun, guys that, you certainly had no anticipation we’re planning on coming back here. They are now and so we’re obviously going to have to have room for them. That creates a challenge.”

Of course, it is better to be on this side of that issue than the other side where a high number of players are entering the transfer portal to find a new school.

“That’s the positive side of it,” Elko said. “So we’re managing a roster from maybe a surplus standpoint and trying to figure out how to get it right.”

Duke’s younger players, like sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard, are thrilled so many veteran, starting players won’t be concluding their careers at the Military Bowl.

“That really just goes down to the culture on the team,” Leonard said. “If the culture was bad between the players and our chemistry and the love for each other wasn’t there, then they would have no hesitation to leave. But really it just comes down to do they want to leave us or do they want to win more games?”

First, they want to win the Military Bowl and post Duke’s first nine-win season since 2014. It would be Duke’s third season with nine or more wins in the last 10 seasons.

Prior to that, Duke hadn’t won as many as nine games in a season since 1941.

For Carter and his classmates who arrived on campus in 2019, they plan on this season being just the start of a serious Duke resurgence.


Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. He placed second in both beat writing and breaking news in the 2019 Associated Press Sports Editors national contest. Previously, Steve worked for The State (Columbia, SC), Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), Charlotte Observer and Hickory (NC) Daily Record covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly. He’s won numerous state-level press association awards. Steve graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.

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