Duke running back Juwan Thompson said he doesn’t like being away from home -- that one of the reasons he chose Duke was because he was “treated like family through the whole process.”
This spring, Thompson made himself at home in Duke’s backfield and was named the Blue Devils’ most improved player of the spring.
“It meant a lot,” he said. “I wasn’t even thinking about any awards at the time. I was just excited to see that [coach David Cutcliffe] noticed the improvement I made from last season until now.”
Oh, Cutcliffe noticed.
With Josh Snead, the fastest running back on the roster, sidelined with an injury, and Jay Hollingsworth, the only senior of the bunch, also injured and out this spring, Thompson increased the competition among the group. Including Patrick Kurunwune and returning starter Desmond Scott, Duke has five backs with the potential to contribute this fall. Thompson finished the spring behind Scott on what should be considered a fluid depth chart heading into summer camp. Duke’s running game has yet to hit its stride, but that could change this fall if all five continue to push each other and make progress this summer.
“Just finishing runs is something I thought we’ve had trouble with at times with the running backs since we’ve been here,” Cutcliffe said. “[Thompson] took that to heart and with his physical style of play and really set a tone. He created a lot of competition. He earned it.”
As a group, Duke’s running backs combined for 1,013 yards and six touchdowns on 235 attempts last season -- the program’s highest rushing total since 2005. And it was still last in the ACC and 104th in the country.
Thompson played in all 11 games last year and earned one start, but he only got 25 carries. Cutcliffe said Thompson improved every facet of his game, including his route running, and knowledge of pass protection schemes. Coming from a wishbone offense out of Woodward Academy in Fairburn, Ga., Cutcliffe said Thompson’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield has improved “leaps and bounds.”
Thompson said he’s still working on his technique and trying to increase his awareness of everything that’s happening on the field.
“So far I’ve been more positive about myself. From the beginning of the season, it was kind of hard, coming from a different offense from high school to college and trying not to make mistakes,” Thompson said. “Instead of thinking about it, now I’m able to go out there and get it done and not worry about too much. I’m still thinking about some things because I’m still young, but I’m growing more and more every day.”
It’s time for Duke’s running game to grow with him.