ACC: Cooper Helfet

Sixteen players from ACC schools were named Wednesday to the 2012 National Football Foundation Hampshire Society for their academic achievement.

The society is in its sixth year, and it honors those from all divisions of college football who maintained a minimum 3.2 GPA throughout their college careers.

Here's the list of ACC honorees:

DB Hampton Hughes (BC)
P Dawson Zimmerman (Clemson)
S Matt Daniels (Duke)
TE Cooper Helfet (Duke)
K Will Snyderwine (Duke)
CB Johnny Williams (Duke)
OT Zebrie Sanders (FSU)
RB Roddy Jones (Georgia Tech)
TE John Calhoun (Miami)
QB Spencer Whipple (Miami)
OT Mikel Overgaard (NC State)
K Robert Randolph (Virginia)
LS Collin Carroll (Virginia Tech)
WR Danny Coale (Virginia Tech)
TE Chris Drager (Virginia Tech)
OG Michael Hoag (Wake Forest)

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 26, 2012
3/26/12
12:00
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"Mad Men" is back. It's going to be a good day.

Q&A with Duke WR Conner Vernon

February, 22, 2012
2/22/12
9:00
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Duke begins spring practices today with an experienced quarterback in three-year starter Sean Renfree, one of the ACC’s most accomplished receivers in Conner Vernon, and an experienced, more athletic offensive line. So what can Duke fans expect in a season that should feature a wide-open Coastal Division race? I caught up with Vernon on Tuesday to get his take on the Blue Devils this season. Vernon is the only player in ACC history with multiple seasons of 70-plus receptions (73 in 2010; 70 in 2011). With 198 career receptions, he is now 34 catches away from matching the league record of 232 held by Clemson’s Aaron Kelly (2005-08). With 2,675 career receiving yards, Vernon needs 842 yards to equal the conference mark of 3,517 yards held by Florida State’s Peter Warrick (1996-99). He’s a key piece to Duke’s bowl hopes this year, but he’ll be limited a bit this spring because he’s still recovering from an ankle injury he suffered at the end of last season.

Here are the highlights of our conversation:

What’s different about Duke football this year? What can Duke fans be encouraged about?

Conner Vernon: Definitely just how young of a team we were last year, and how a lot of them have really grown up a lot and shown flashes of greatness early. That’s something Coach Cut [David Cutcliffe] has preached a lot about this offseason, about being great, and that good isn’t good enough anymore. A lot of guys have stepped up big, and a lot of young guys have stepped up big. My impression is that that’s created a lot of competition with the older guys and we’re looking forward to starting [today].

[+] EnlargeConner Vernon
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireDuke's Conner Vernon is on the brink of breaking several ACC receiving records.
You mentioned that Coach Cut said good isn’t good enough at this point. What’s it going to take for you guys to take the next step?

CV: That’s something we’re going to figure out and we’ll find that out as a team. The competition level is going to keep going up at practice, which is going to push more guys. That’s what we need. We have a great recruiting class coming in and last year’s class, a lot of those guys have stepped up and it’s going to be fun. That’s what I think he’s trying to get at, letting guys know we have a lot of guys coming in who are great and are going to push us to the limit and it’s going to be good for all of us.

Just from a personal standpoint, how badly do you want to see all of this hard work finally translate into a bowl game this year?

CV: Oh, more than anything I’ve ever wanted. Not only do the players who have been here for the last four or five years, coaches, staff, Duke University itself, the fans and alums, it’s time to put Duke back on the map, get to that bowl and get over the hump. This whole university and the people around it definitely deserve it.

Because you guys have been so close under Cutcliffe, but it hasn’t happened, why is everyone still believing and buying in?

CV: Because it shows. It shows out there. I’m sure you can ask any team in the ACC that it’s shown and it’s something that they can’t take Duke for granted anymore. Even though the win-loss column may not show it, you can tell teams are respecting Duke a lot more. It’s only going to get better.

I look at what you guys have coming back on offense and it seems pretty good with Sean Renfree being in his third season as a starter. What do you think you guys are capable of this year offensively?

CV: The sky is the limit for us. We have some set offensive goals and we’re hoping to achieve them, but from a passing standpoint and running standpoint, we look very good.

Without [Donovan] Varner and [Cooper] Helfet it seems like you’re the main man out there. How do you feel your role will change out there, not that you haven’t been a productive part of Duke’s offense in recent years?

CV: I think I’m going to have to take more of a leadership role. Cooper and Donovan were leaders on the offense, along with Sean. Just them being seniors as a group and gone, it’s kind of like it’s my turn now. I would say just trying to take more of that role and it’s definitely going to be my biggest challenge this offseason.

You’re 34 catches away from setting a league record, and 842 yards away from another league record. How much do you think about those things and care about them, and are they goals of yours for the season?

CV: They’re definitely subplots of this trip, my four years here. But definitely my first and foremost goal is putting Duke football back on the map and getting to that bowl game and having more wins than losses this year. If the record comes, great, but the only record I’m really worried about is the one for Duke’s team at the end of the year. I’ll do everything in my power to make that happen, and I’m sure if we’re in a bowl game this year those records will be right there behind it. I’m looking forward to the challenge, but Duke comes first before the individual records.

Week 4: Did you know?

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
11:00
AM ET
Here’s your weekly dose of ACC knowledge, thanks to the sports information directors throughout the league:

ACC: All 12 ACC coaching staffs will participate in Coach to Cure MD this week and join coaches nationwide by wearing a special arm patch to raise awareness of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Wake Forest has a bye week but will wear the patches at a later date. A total of 109 out of 120 FBS schools will take part in Coach to Cure MD this week.

BOSTON COLLEGE: BC and Massachusetts played annually for 16 years (from 1966-82). Saturday’s game will mark the first time they’ve met, though, since 2007. Boston College leads the series 18-5. The Eagles have won each of the past six meetings dating back to 1978, including a 24-14 win on Sept. 29, 2007.

CLEMSON: In each of the past two games the Tigers have had at least 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing. Overall, the Tigers are 55-0-1 when getting at least 200 yards or each in the same game in history.

DUKE: For the first time since 1980, Duke’s offense had six players with at least five catches and 50 receiving yards in a single game in last week’s win over Boston College. Quarterback Sean Renfree completed a school single-game record 41 passes against the Eagles with five receivers -- Donovan Varner (12-78), Brandon Braxton (9-60), Juwan Thompson (7-50), Cooper Helfet (6-59) and Conner Vernon (6-116) -- catching at least six balls.

FLORIDA STATE: Florida State freshman wide receiver Rashad Greene has put together back-to-back games with touchdown receptions of 50 yards or longer -- a 69-yard scoring reception from redshirt freshman quarterback Clint Trickett against Charleston Southern and a 56-yard touchdown catch, also from Trickett, against Oklahoma. He is the first Florida State freshman receiver with touchdown receptions of 50 or more yards in consecutive games since Kurt Unglaub in 1976.

GEORGIA TECH: A win over North Carolina on Saturday would make Georgia Tech 4-0 for the first time since 1990, the year it won a share of the national championship.

MARYLAND: Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Maryland has scored 126 points off turnovers (36), while the opposition has been held to 27 points (17). Maryland scored 16 points off four Miami miscues, but did not allow the Hurricanes to score off its lone turnover. Despite turning the ball over three times against. West Virginia, the Terps allowed just seven points off those interceptions. Conversely, WVU turned the ball over three times and the Terps scored 10 points.

MIAMI: The Canes’ defense held Ohio State to 10 or fewer yards on five of their 11 possessions last week, only one of which lasted more than six plays. The Buckeyes’ longest play of the game was 17 yards.

NORTH CAROLINA: Everett Withers is the first North Carolina coach to start his career 3-0 since George Barclay in 1953. Since the ACC began in 1953, no first-year UNC coach has ever started 4-0. Withers was named UNC’s interim head coach on July 28th, just six weeks before the season began. He earned his first win as a head coach with a 42-10 victory over JMU. Withers is the first African-American head football coach in UNC history and only the fourth in ACC history.

NC STATE: Heading into Thursday night's game against Cincinnati, NC State had allowed quarterback Mike Glennon to be sacked eight times in three games. Last night, the Bearcats sacked NC State quarterbacks a total of seven times, for a grand total of 15 in four games. FSU was the only team that had allowed more (10) after three games.

VIRGINIA: Virginia has run 228 offensive plays to 190 for its opponents; that’s an advantage of nearly 13 snaps per game.

VIRGINIA TECH: Two former Hokies -- Frank Loria and Rick Tolley -- were on the Marshall staff that was part of the Southern Airways Flight 932 that crashed on Nov. 14, 1970 as the team was returning from East Carolina. Loria played for the Hokies from 1965-1967, helping Tech to a berth in the 1966 Liberty Bowl. He joined the Marshall University coaching staff in 1969 as the defensive backs coach. Loria played safety in the same defensive backfield with Tech head coach Frank Beamer. Tolley played football as a center and linebacker at Tech from 1958-61 and was the head coach of the Marshall football team during the 1969 and 1970 seasons.

WAKE FOREST: Wake Forest has had a player record 100 or more reception yards in each of its first three games this year, for the first time since 1998. Junior Chris Givens accomplished the feat against Syracuse (154) and NC State (111), while senior Danny Dembry had 126 yards against Gardner-Webb.
Duke tight end Cooper Helfet has played Division I lacrosse.

He has played two seasons as a receiver at a junior college in California.

Now, finally, entering his second season as a tight end in the ACC, Helfet is the most comfortable and most prepared he’s been as an athlete and he could be one of the best tight ends in the ACC.

[+] EnlargeCooper Helfet
AP Photo/Rich AddicksCooper Helfet expects to be a more well-rounded tight end this season.
NC State’s George Bryan has gotten all of the attention for the position as a first-team all-conference selection, but Helfet has become a more complete player this offseason and could push Bryan for the spotlight. Last year, Helfet played in 11 games and started one and finished fourth on the team with 34 catches for 380 yards and two touchdowns. This year, he’s a projected starter and his improved blocking skills combined with his ability to stretch the field vertically will make him a key player in Duke’s pass-happy offense.

Helfet said he’s grown “a ton” since arriving at Duke.

“I was a receiver at the JC,” he said. “I ran a lot of similar tight end routes, where it’s a lot of over-the-middle things, a lot of big body catches, but I never put my hand in the dirt. Coach Ron Middleton is probably the best coach I’ve ever had. He’s gotten me exactly where I need to be. In a very short period of time, he’s gotten me to be a tight end, which you’ll see a lot more of this year, more of real tight end, hopefully.”

By that he means he’ll be blocking a lot more. Last year Helfet was used on mainly pass plays, but this year he’ll incorporate more three-point stance blocks and motion blocks.

“You’ll see me get my face into some guys this year,” he said. “I struggled with it last year, just based on a technique standpoint, so I’ve gotten that this year. I’ve really focused on it.”

He’s come a long way from being an unheralded but talented three-sport high school athlete.

Helfet suffered a back injury during his junior year at Redwood High School in California, which he said derailed his recruitment and changed the course of his path. He received a lacrosse scholarship offer from Johns Hopkins and decided to give it a try.

“I just really wanted to play a really competitive DI sport at the highest level, so I got there and tried it out, but lacrosse was never my true passion,” he said. “It wasn’t for me. I couldn’t give it everything I wanted to give. I wanted to go back to playing football.”

The junior college route seemed to be his best option. During two seasons at Santa Rosa Junior College, Helfet had 68 receptions for 1,039 yards. It was a successful detour, but Helfet said he’s finally at the place he wants to be as a collegiate athlete.

“I just wanted to be in a place where I could compete and play Division I football,” he said. “Obviously the ACC is a big-time conference, and they’re putting me in a position where I can be an effective player. That’s really all I wanted.”

It’s up to him this fall to show just how effective he can be.

Preseason watch lists complete

July, 18, 2011
7/18/11
5:00
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The members of the National College Football Awards Association unveiled their preseason watch lists over a 13-day period concluding with the Walter Camp Award's list today. Fifteen of the association's 21 awards selected a preseason watch list, and I've compiled your ACC candidates here:

WALTER CAMP PLAYER OF THE YEAR AWARD
  • Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
  • Jayron Hosley, DB, Virginia Tech
  • Brandon Jenkins, DT, Florida State
  • Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
JIM THORPE AWARD
  • Ray-Ray Armstrong, Miami
  • Donnie Fletcher, Boston College
  • Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech
  • Chase Minnifield, Virginia
  • Greg Reid, Florida State
  • Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
  • Kenny Tate, Maryland
ROTARY LOMBARDI AWARD
  • Nigel Bradham, LB, Florida State
  • Jaymes Brooks, G, Virginia Tech
  • Audie Cole, LB, NC State
  • Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
  • Quinton Coples, OT, Florida State
  • Blake DeChristopher, OT, Virginia Tech
  • Marcus Forston, DT, Miami
  • Dalton Freeman, C, Clemson
  • Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State
  • Cam Johnson, DT, Virginia
  • Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
  • Donte Paige-Moss, DE, North Carolina
  • Tydreke Powell, DT, North Carolina
  • Sean Spence, LB, Miami
  • Bruce Taylor, LB, Virginia Tech
  • Joe Vellano, DT, Maryland
  • Brandon Washington, G, Miami
RIMINGTON TROPHY
  • Dalton Freeman, Clemson
  • Cam Holland, North Carolina
  • Tyler Horn, Miami
  • Brian Moore, Duke
BUTKUS AWARD
  • Nigel Bradham, Florida State
  • Zach Brown, North Carolina
  • Ramon Buchanan, Miami
  • Audie Cole, NC State
  • Luke Kuechly, Boston College
  • Kevin Reddick, North Carolina
  • Sean Spence, Miami
  • Kenny Tate, Maryland
  • Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech
DOAK WALKER AWARD
BEDNARIK AWARD
  • Ray-Ray Armstrong, S, Miami
  • Nigel Bradham, LB, Florida State
  • Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
  • Donnie Fletcher, CB, Boston College
  • Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech
  • Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State
  • Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
  • Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
  • Donte Paige-Moss, DE, North Carolina
  • Kevin Reddick, LB, North Carolina
  • Greg Reid, CB, Florida State
  • Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
  • Sean Spence, LB, Miami
  • Kenny Tate, LB, Maryland
  • Bruce Taylor, LB, Virginia Tech
BILETNIKOFF AWARD
LOU GROZA AWARD
  • Casey Barth, North Carolina
  • Nate Freese, Boston College
  • Dustin Hopkins, Florida State
  • Will Snyderwine, Duke
RAY GUY AWARD
  • Dawson Zimmerman, Clemson
MACKEY AWARD
MAXWELL AWARD
BRONKO NAGURSKI TROPHY
  • Ray-Ray Armstrong, S, Miami
  • Nigel Bradham, LB, Florida State
  • Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina
  • Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
  • Marcus Forston, DT, Miami
  • Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech
  • Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State
  • Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
  • Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
  • Donte Paige-Moss, DE, North Carolina
  • Tydreke Powell, DT, North Carolina
  • Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
  • Sean Spence, OLB, Miami
  • Kenny Tate, LB, Maryland
  • Bruce Taylor, LB, Virginia Tech
OUTLAND TROPHY
  • Andrew Datko, OT, Florida State
  • Blake DeChristopher, OT, Virginia Tech
  • Marcus Forston, DT, Miami
  • Dalton Freeman, C, Clemson
  • Tydreke Powell, DT, North Carolina
  • Omoregie Uzzi, OG, Georgia Tech
  • Brandon Washington, OG, Miami
DAVEY O'BRIEN
  • EJ Manuel, Florida State
  • Danny O'Brien, Maryland
  • Sean Renfree, Duke

ACC's award candidates

July, 11, 2011
7/11/11
5:00
PM ET
As promised earlier this morning, here's your one-stop shopping for the watch lists that have been announced. I will do another one early next week:

BEDNARIK AWARD (Presented to the nation's most outstanding defensive player by the Maxwell Football Club)
Ray-Ray Armstrong, S, Miami
Nigel Bradham, LB, Florida State
Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Donnie Fletcher, CB, Boston College
Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech
Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State
Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
Donte Paige-Moss, DE, North Carolina
Kevin Reddick, LB, North Carolina
Greg Reid, CB, Florida State
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Sean Spence, LB, Miami
Kenny Tate, LB, Maryland
Bruce Taylor, LB, Virginia Tech

BILETNIKOFF AWARD (Presented to the nation's most outstanding wide receiver by the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation)

Travis Benjamin, Miami
Jarrett Boykin, Virginia Tech
Kris Burd, Virginia
Chris Givens, Wake Forest
DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
Dwight Jones, North Carolina
Bobby Swigert, Boston College
Donovan Varner, Duke
Conner Vernon, Duke

LOU GROZA AWARD (Presented to the nation's most outstanding place-kicker by the Palm Beach County Sports Commission)
Casey Barth, North Carolina
Nate Freese, Boston College
Dustin Hopkins, Florida State
Will Snyderwine, Duke

RAY GUY AWARD (Presented to the nation's most outstanding punter by the Augusta [Ga.] Sports Council)
Dawson Zimmerman, Clemson

MACKEY AWARD (Presented to the nation's most outstanding tight end by the Nassau Co. Sports Commission)
Dwayne Allen, Clemson
George Bryan, NC State
Cooper Helfet, Duke
Chris Pantale, Boston College
Colter Phillips, Virginia

MAXWELL AWARD (Presented to the nation's most outstanding all-around player by the Maxwell Football Club)
Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson
Mike Glennon, QB, NC State
Montel Harris, RB, Boston College
EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State
Danny O'Brien, QB, Maryland
David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech

BRONKO NAGURSKI TROPHY (Presented to the nation's most outstanding defensive player by the Charlotte Touchdown Club)
Ray-Ray Armstrong, S, Miami
Nigel Bradham, LB, Florida State
Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina
Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Marcus Forston, DT, Miami
Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech
Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State
Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
Donte Paige-Moss, DE, North Carolina
Tydreke Powell, DT, North Carolina
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Sean Spence, OLB, Miami
Kenny Tate, LB, Maryland
Bruce Taylor, LB, Virginia Tech

OUTLAND TROPHY (Presented to the nation's most outstanding interior lineman by the FWAA)
Andrew Datko, OT, Florida State
Blake DeChristopher, OT, Virginia Tech
Marcus Forston, DT, Miami
Dalton Freeman, C, Clemson
Tydreke Powell, DT, North Carolina
Omoregie Uzzi, OG, Georgia Tech
Brandon Washington, OG, Miami

Duke spring wrap

May, 5, 2011
5/05/11
10:30
AM ET
2010 overall record: 3-9

2010 conference record: 1-7

Returning starters

Offense: 8, defense: 6, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners

WR Conner Vernon, WR Donovan Varner, QB Sean Renfree, TE Cooper Helfet, PK Will Snyderwine, S Matt Daniels, NG Charlie Hatcher, LT Kyle Hill, C Brian Moore.

Key losses

LB Abraham Kromah, DE Patrick Egboh, WR Austin Kelly, C Bryan Morgan

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Desmond Scott* (530 yards)

Passing: Renfree* (3,131 yds)

Receiving: Vernon* (973 yds)

Tackles: Kromah (129)

Sacks: Egboh (4.5)

Interceptions: Ross Cockrell* (3)

Spring answers

1. Sean Renfree has a chance to be a special quarterback. Coach David Cutcliffe said repeatedly this spring that his quarterback had a great spring, not a good one. Renfree has a chance to flourish in his second season as a full-time starter, especially in a division filled with rookies at the position and one of the top receiving corps in the ACC.

2 New talent emerging. Brandon Braxton showed this spring that he has the potential to be an excellent fit with Varner and Vernon as Blue Devils’ top three wideouts. Duke will also have a new face at center, where Moore takes over for graduated three-year starter Morgan. His move from guard paid off this spring.

3. Duke will be more athletic on defense. It remains to be seen if the Blue Devils will stop anyone this fall, but they’ll at least look better trying to. Duke was more athletic and faster this spring, and part of that has to do with the commitment to a 4-2-5 defensive scheme to get a third safety on the field. Duke dabbled in it a bit last season but will use it exclusively this year under first-year coordinator Jim Knowles.

Fall questions

1. How much better will the defensive line be? Hatcher is the only member of the entire line entering his final season of eligibility. He’ll have to carry the load from a playmaking and leadership standpoint. Redshirt freshman Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo has good speed off the edge, but the entire group will need to take another step forward in the first season under assistant Rick Petri.

2. Will the running game finally be a factor? Duke made strides on the ground last season, but still ranked 104th in the country in rushing offense. All of the running backs return, and offensive line coach Matt Luke has his group looking like an ACC offensive line, but he only has one starter in his final season of eligibility in Hill at left tackle. It’s still a young group, but they’ve got more size and athleticism than in the past. Josh Snead is the fastest of the backs, Scott is the most well-rounded, and Juwan Thompson has the most upside.

3. Can Duke get to the quarterback? Duke ranked 113th in the country and last in the league in sacks last season with one per game. Knowles likes to blitz, but his players have to have confidence to make it work.

Duke spring game rewind

March, 28, 2011
3/28/11
10:00
AM ET
While some other programs in the ACC are just beginning spring practices this week, Duke wrapped things up on Saturday with the White team's 21-14 come-from-behind win over the Blue team in the Blue Devils' annual spring game. Anthony Boone’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Tyree Watkins with 11:15 remaining in the fourth period clinched the win for the White team. Here are the highlights:

OFFENSE: Quarterback Sean Renfree completed 8 0f 14 passes for 105 yards and one touchdown while Boone was 7-of-15 for 94 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Desmond Scott led the White team with 56 rushing yards on 13 carries while Juwan Thompson gained 35 yards on nine rushes. For the Blue team, quarterback Brandon Connette completed 10 of 16 throws for 102 yards while rushing for 34 yards on eight attempts. Josh Snead had 54 yards on six carries. Watkins finished with six receptions for 67 yards while Brandon Braxton (21 yards), Cooper Helfet (64 yards) and Conner Vernon (19 yards) had three catches apiece.

DEFENSE: Jamal Wallace made a game-high seven tackles while Austin Gamble had six total stops. Issac Blakeney, Walt Canty, Matt Daniels, C.J. France, Tyree Glover and Jonathan Woodruff had five tackles each, with Blakeney also contributing two tackles for loss, one quarterback sack, one caused fumble, one quarterback pressure and one pass breakup. Charlie Hatcher, Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Tony Foster each recorded one quarterback sack while Garrett Rider’s interception in the fourth quarter was the game’s lone turnover.

QUOTABLE: “We’re going to have some fun on offense,” coach David Cutcliffe said, according to the team's spring game release. “Anthony Boone, you watched there at the end, as a redshirt freshman he is entering the picture. We’ll have a little unique package or two just to see where we are headed with it. Sean Renfree is our starter. These are dangerous words, but he’s come close to having a great spring. He’s really been good all spring.”

AWARD WINNERS: Juwan Thompson was named the spring's Most Improved Offensive Player, Ross Cockrell the Most Improved Defensive Player and Preston Scott earned the Blue Devil Heart Award.

Weekend rewind: Duke scrimmage

February, 28, 2011
2/28/11
9:00
AM ET
Attention: There was actual ACC football played on Saturday -- 75 snaps in Wallace Wade Stadium.

Duke, the first ACC team to start spring practices, had its first spring scrimmage on Saturday, and the offense was the highlight. While it should be noted that five projected defensive starters were out with injuries, this is the kind of offensive progress Duke needs to see this spring, particularly in the running game. Defensively, it was a chance for some younger players to get some significant snaps.

OFFENSIVE HIGHLIGHTS: Quarterback Sean Renfree, who could be the lone returning full-time starting quarterback in the Coastal Division, accounted for three touchdowns and running back Patrick Kurunwune had 154 yards on eight carries. Renfree completed 7 of 13 passes for 129 yards with touchdowns of 18 yards to tight end Cooper Helfet and 55 yards to wideout Brandon Braxton. Renfree also rushed for a 3-yard touchdown. Kurunwune took off on runs of 27, 37 and 75 yards en route to averaging an impressive 19.3 yards per attempt. Fellow running backs Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson added 50 and 41 yards on the ground, respectively.

Thompson (62 yards) and wideout Conner Vernon (42 yards) led all receivers with three catches each while tight end Braxton Deaver finished with two catches for 63 yards.

DEFENSIVE HIGHLIGHTS: Safety Jordon Byas led the defense with two pass breakups, one caused fumble and one fumble recovery. Defensive tackle Jamal Bruce chipped in a tackle for loss while linebacker C.J. France and defensive end Nick Sink combined on one quarterback sack. Duke is missing three injured players this spring -- linebacker Kelby Brown, safety Lee Butler and defensive end Kenny Anunike -- and noseguard Charlie Hatcher and safety Matt Daniels didn't dress for the scrimmage because of minor injuries.

QUOTABLE: “I thought we ran the ball really well today,” Renfree said, according to the team's scrimmage report. “I think it has to do with being multiple, and mostly it has to do with the performance of our offensive line. They did a great job. We’ve got a lot of good running backs and if you get holes for them, they’re dangerous. That was lot of fun to see.”

ACC's most-improved players in 2010

January, 31, 2011
1/31/11
2:05
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There were numerous players throughout the ACC who made quantum leaps in their careers this past season, transitioning from the supporting cast to a starring role. Some came off the bench, others finally realized their potential. In no particular order, here’s a look at the league’s 10 most-improved players in 2010:

Dontrelle Inman, WR, Virginia: He went from eight receptions in 2009 to 51 in 2010. Inman ranked No. 6 in the ACC in yards per game (67.9) and No. 10 in receptions per game (4.2). He led the team with 815 receiving yards and had the 13th-best receiving output in ACC history with 239 receiving yards at Duke.

Antwine Perez, S, Maryland: The career backup and former USC transfer finally had the breakout season many had been waiting for. He had a team-high 11 passes defended (three interceptions/eight pass breakups). He was fifth on the team with 74 tackles, including seven TFLs, and he had three fumble recoveries.

Julian Burnett, LB, GT: He began the season on the bench, undersized for a typical 3-4 defense, but ended up leading Tech in tackles (89). He had 42 solo tackles, one interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Quinton Coples, DE, UNC: He went from backup defensive end to first-team All-ACC defensive tackle. He had 15.5 TFLs, 10 sacks, 12 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and was fourth on the team in tackles with 59.

Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson: He wasn’t even an honorable mention all-conference selection a year ago, let alone on anyone’s NFL draft board. After a breakout season in 2010, he was a first-team unanimous All-American, the Bronko Nagurski Award winner and the No. 1 projected NFL draft pick by several experts. He improved from three sacks to 15.5 and 11 TFLs to 26.

Earl Wolff, S, NC State: After starting just four games in 2009 as a redshirt freshman, Wolff was one of the team’s top defenders, leading the Pack in tackles with 95, including two sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He also had one interception, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Brandon Jenkins, DE, FSU: Following a 2009 season in which he played as a true freshman, Jenkins was named the team’s most-improved defensive lineman following spring drills last year and he continued it into the fall. He had 21.5 TFLs, 13.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries. He also had two pass breakups and four quarterback hurries.

Jim Noel, S, Boston College: The true sophomore earned his first start against Florida State and finished with four interceptions and one pass breakup. He had 10 tackles in his starting debut against the Noles and had two interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown.

Virginia Tech kicker Chris Hazley: He joined the program as a walk-on in 2007 and his patience and practice finally paid off. He earned a scholarship this past preseason and all-conference honors this postseason. He set a school record for consecutive field goals made in a season with 21. He made 21 of 22 field goals.

Cooper Helfet, TE, Duke: The junior college transfer enrolled at Duke last January and was a backup on the depth chart entering the fall. He caught 34 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns. He started for the first time against Georgia Tech and had six receptions for 92 yards. He also caught seven passes for 122 yards against Virginia.

Season recap: Duke

December, 7, 2010
12/07/10
11:30
AM ET
Quarterback Sean Renfree experienced some growing pains in his first season as a starter, but he did get better, and that bodes well for the future. Turnovers were one of Duke’s biggest problems this year, though, as the Blue Devils ranked 112th in the country in turnover margin. When interceptions weren’t a factor, the passing game was the highlight of the season. Three different receivers had more than 400 yards each, and tight end Cooper Helfet gave Renfree another dependable option. Still, Duke struggled to run the ball and stop the run, and that added up to a six-game losing streak following the season-opening win against Elon.

Duke avoided taking a significant step back in David Cutcliffe’s third season by beating Navy and Virginia for a three-win season. Cutcliffe continues to prove he can win at Duke, but the staff must close the talent gap through recruiting if the program is going to reach the postseason.

Offensive MVP: Receiver Conner Vernon. He leads the ACC in pass receptions (73), receptions per game (6.08) and 100-yard receiving games (four) and is third in the league in both receiving yards (973) and receiving yards per game (81.1). His 73 receptions fell one catch shy of the school’s 40-year old single-season record of 74 set by Wes Chesson in 1970.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Abraham Kromah. He ranks second in the ACC with a team-best 129 tackles in 2010. He also led the Blue Devils with 9.5 tackles for loss while reaching double figures in the tackle column eight times including a career-best 20-stop performance in the season finale against North Carolina.

Turning point: If Duke was going to have a shot at its first bowl game since 1994, it had to beat Army, and when the Blue Devils lost at home, 35-21, it set the tone for the rest of the season. Duke’s five turnovers in that game also started a trend that was difficult for the Blue Devils to shake until later in the season.

What’s next: Recruiting will continue to be the top priority, but there are still signs of promise on the current roster, as Renfree returns along with Duke’s top receivers. The offensive line will return three starters, so some continuity there will help, but the defense must get better at putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and creating takeaways.

ACC's Players of the Week

November, 8, 2010
11/08/10
12:48
PM ET
Here are the ACC's Players of the Week, as announced by the league offices in Greensboro, N.C.:

OFFENSIVE BACK – T.J. Yates, North Carolina, QB, Sr., 6-4, 220, Marietta, Ga. (Pope)

Yates was 24-of-35 for a school-record 439 yards and three touchdowns in Carolina’s 37-35 win at Florida State. It was his fifth career 300-plus yard game and his second career 400-plus yard game. He became the first player in program history to pass for 400-plus yards twice in a career, and the second player all-time in the ACC to have the two performances in the same season against nationally ranked opponents (No. 24 Florida State and No. 21 LSU). Yates, who passed for 412 yards earlier this season against LSU, has the top two passing performances in the ACC this season. He threw touchdown passes of 67, 14 and 4 yards in the Tar Heels’ first-ever win in Tallahassee.

OFFENSIVE LINEMAN – Cooper Helfet, Duke, TE, Jr., 6-4, 240, Kentfield, Calif. (Redwood & Santa Rosa Junior College)

Helfet helped Duke to a 55-48 win against Virginia, catching seven passes for a career-high 122 yards and one touchdown. His scoring reception covered 30 yards. Five of his seven catches produced first downs, and he averaged 17.4 yards per reception. On Duke’s game-winning, 91-yard touchdown drive in the final two minutes, Helfet caught two passes for 30 yards and two first downs. He helped create holes for the Blue Devils’ rushing attack, which totaled 230 yards on the ground and six rushing touchdowns. Helfet’s receiving performance came against a Virginia defense that had ranked second in the league in pass defense.

DEFENSIVE LINEMAN – Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech, LB, r-So., 6-2, 246, Myrtle Beach, S.C. (Myrtle Beach)

Taylor was the top point-getter for the Hokies after recording a career-high 14 tackles, including a game-high two sacks, in the win against Georgia Tech. His two sacks resulted in a loss of six yards. He earned 58 points in the coaches' grading system, one of the top totals this year.

DEFENSIVE BACK – DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson, S, Sr., 6-1, 215, Tallahassee, Fla. (Amos P. Godby)

McDaniel had three tackles, a quarterback pressure and a crucial interception in Clemson’s win against NC State Saturday. His interception was clutch as it came in the end zone when NC State had a first and goal from the Tigers’ seven. The pick kept State off the board on that possession in a game that Clemson eventually won, 14-13. It was the 15th interception of McDaniel’s career, which ties for second best in school history (17).

SPECIALIST – David Wilson, Virginia Tech, TB, So., 5-11, 200, Danville, Va. (George Washington)

Wilson was a key player in Virginia Tech's come-from-behind win against Georgia Tech on Thursday, scoring a pair of touchdowns. His first was on a 15-yard run in the second quarter, but he gave the Hokies the lead for good with 2:23 remaining in the game when he ignited the crowd with a 90-yard kickoff return for a score, his second of the season. He finished with 129 all-purpose yards.

ROOKIE – Stephen Morris, Miami, QB, Fr., 6-2, 183, Miami, Fla. (Monsignor Pace)

Morris, a true freshman making his first career start, completed 18-of-30 passes against Maryland, but none was bigger than the final completion for a 35-yard touchdown to Leonard Hankerson with 37 seconds to play. The touchdown pass gave the ‘Canes a 26-20 win and capped off an impressive debut for the rookie. Morris threw for 286 yards, a single-game high for any UM quarterback this season, and also rushed for 13 yards.

ACC's Players of the Week

November, 1, 2010
11/01/10
12:09
PM ET
Here are the ACC's Players of the Week, as announced by the league offices in Greensboro, N.C.:

OFFENSIVE BACK -- Russell Wilson, NC State, QB, r-Jr., 5-11, 201, Richmond, Va. (Collegiate)

Wilson directed the NC State offense to its come-from-behind victory over the Seminoles. Wilson completed 18 of 28 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown, and also carried the ball 17 times for 69 net yards and three touchdowns, accounting for all four of the Wolfpack's scores. Wilson's three rushing touchdowns not only marked a career high, but also the most rushing touchdowns by an NC State quarterback since Preston Poag rushed for three scores versus Western Carolina on Sept. 3, 1988. Wilson was especially effective in the second half; with NC State trailing 21-7 in the third quarter, he completed 5 of 7 passes for 24 yards, and rushed five times for 43 yards and two touchdowns to tie the game at 21-21. In the fourth quarter he completed five of six passes for 74 yards, including the game-winning touchdown, which came on fourth-and-goal from the FSU 1-yard line with 2:40 to play.

OFFENSIVE LINEMAN -- Cooper Helfet, Duke, TE, Jr., 6-4, 240, Kentfield, Calif. (Redwood & Santa Rosa Junior College)

In Duke’s 34-31 win, Helfet caught a season-best and team-high seven passes for a season-high 69 yards. Four of his seven receptions produced first downs. He also recovered a Navy onside kick attempt at the 2:34 mark of the fourth quarter to help preserve the victory. Helfet had three catches for 31 yards and two first downs as Duke executed its two-minute offense just prior to halftime. On the drive, which started with 2:19 on the clock, the Blue Devils marched 64 yards on 8 plays for a touchdown to take a 24-0 lead at intermission. He was a key component of a Duke offense that posted 456 total yards, 36:57 of possession time and zero turnovers.

DEFENSIVE LINEMAN -- Luke Kuechly, Boston College, MLB, So., 6-3, 235, Cincinnati, Ohio (Saint Xavier)

Kuechly, who leads the nation in tackles, finished the day with 14 (10 solos, 4 assists), to extend the nation’s longest streak of games with 10 or more tackles to 17. He also caught the potential game-saving interception with 1:42 remaining in the game, by picking off a Kyle Parker pass at the BC 45 on second down. The Eagles were able to run the clock down to 43 seconds before Clemson took over for one last drive that ended on the Clemson 43 with a Parker incomplete pass as time expired. Kuechly also was credited a TFL assist.

CO-DEFENSIVE BACK -- Chase Minnifield, Virginia, CB, Jr., 6-0, 185, Lexington, Ky. (Henry Clay)

Minnifield had two interceptions and four tackles in UVa's 24-19 upset of Miami at Scott Stadium. He teamed with safety Corey Mosley to help the Cavaliers tie the school record with five interceptions during the game. Minnifield's first interception came in the second quarter and set up UVa's first touchdown of the game. His second came in the third quarter when UVa led 17-0 but Miami had driven to the Cavaliers' 17-yard line. Minnifield now has six interceptions this season which ties for the NCAA FCS lead.

CO-DEFENSIVE BACK -- Corey Mosley, Virginia, S, Jr., 5-10, 200, Richmond, Va. (Henrico)

Mosley tallied two interceptions and four tackles as UVa upset Miami, 24-19. Mosley's first pick ended a Hurricane scoring threat. With Virginia up 7-0 and UM at the 15-yard line he intercepted the ball on the 8-yard line and returned it 44 yards setting up the Cavaliers' second touchdown. His second interception came in the fourth quarter at the UM 30, which he returned to the Canes' 5-yard line. UVa scored one play later to go up 24-0.

SPECIALIST -- Will Snyderwine, Duke, K, r-Jr., 5-11, 190, Potomac, Md. (Landon School)

Snyderwine scored 10 points on two field goals and four PATs as Duke defeated Navy, 34-31. He was 2-of-2 on field goals (30 and 40 yards) and 4-of-4 on PATs. His 40-yard field goal at the 8:34 mark of the 4th period proved to be the winning margin in the three-point victory, and he has now made 11 consecutive field goals. On the season he has made all 22 of his PATs and is 46-of-46 for his career. Three of his seven kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, and he recorded one tackle on kickoff coverage.

ROOKIE -– Danny O’Brien, Maryland, QB, r-Fr., 6-3, 215, Kernersville, N.C. (East Forsyth)

O’Brien had a tremendous day against Wake Forest, throwing a career-high four touchdown passes in Maryland’s 62-14 win over the Demon Deacons. The redshirt freshman, who has seven touchdowns and no interceptions over the past two games, completed 13 of 20 passes for 168 yards with an efficiency rating of 201.56. In all five of his starts this season, O’Brien has connected with at least eight different receivers. His 4.33-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio tops the FBS among freshmen, as is his 1.80 interception percentage. Despite not starting the first three games of the season, his 13 touchdown passes are tied for second in the country among freshmen.

Duke's Sean Renfree showing toughness

September, 11, 2010
9/11/10
12:49
PM ET
Duke quarterback Sean Renfree is going to be a special quarterback in the ACC. It's only a matter of time. He completed all six of his passes so far for a 14-7 lead over Wake Forest, and he's shown some toughness along the way. He completed an 18-yard pass and took a hard hit, was helped up and jogged off on his own. He was back in on third down and threw a post pass to tight end Cooper Helfet for the lead. After recovering from a torn ACL, it's going to take a lot to keep him off the field again this fall.

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