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ACC football coach of the year to be featured speaker at Monday's Gaston Sports Hall of Fame banquet
GASTONIA – Duke head football coach David Cutcliffe considers Gaston County as fertile recruiting territory for his Blue Devils’ football program.
He has one player already in his program from the county, another from neighboring Cleveland County and last week got a future commitment from another Gaston County product.
It’s also why he enjoys seeing this county honor former athletic greats. “It’s fun for me to see people recognize their own,” said Cutcliffe, the reigning ACC coach of the year and the featured speaker for Monday’s event at the Gastonia Conference Center. “I’m about tradition and relationships and I really enjoy seeing a community such as yours do what you’re doing.”
Cutcliffe will be enjoying a night in which former football star Scott Crawford, former basketball coach and longtime sporting salesman Francis Essic, former basketball star Eric “Sleepy” Floyd and longtime college football coach Buddy Green comprise the 25th induction class. And Cutcliffe’s appearance will mark some personal and local history, given that one of his mentors, coaching legend Paul “Bear” Bryant, was a speaker for this event in 1963. “To go and be part of an event like this, with its rich tradition and history, makes it great to be a part of,” said Cutcliffe, whose first coaching job was as a student assistant under Bryant in the 1970s.
Cutcliffe later coached high school football in his native Birmingham, Ala., before embarking on what is now a 31-year college coaching career. Most famous for having coached Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Peyton Manning (Tennessee) and Eli Manning (Mississippi) during his time in the SEC, Cutcliffe has a 65-69 head coaching record during his stints at Mississippi at Duke.
Last fall, Cutcliffe did something that hadn’t been done at Duke in 18 years: Make a postseason bowl game. And even as the Blue Devils lost 48-34 to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, Cutcliffe is hopeful he’s gotten the Blue Devils on the path to respectability. “The good thing about being in a bowl game like the Belk Bowl was that we were the only game in the country on ESPN that night,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s made a huge difference in recruiting in that people understand who we are and the exciting brand of football that we play.”
Duke’s spring practice concluded a month ago and the lone Gaston County product on the Blue Devils’ roster, offensive tackle Carson Ginn, keeps making a positive impression on his head coach. “He was in the rotation in the spring and he’s a No. 2 tackle right now,” Cutcliffe said of Ginn, a 2011 South Point High graduate who will be a redshirt sophomore in the fall. “He’s an extremely talented athlete and he’s gotten bigger and stronger. I strongly believe his best days are ahead of him.”
Ginn played in five games as a reserve offensive lineman last season as Duke went 6-7 overall and 3-5 in the ACC.
Former Shelby High standout Carlos Wray also is on the Duke roster as a defensive lineman and, last week, Cutcliffe added an early Class of 2014 commitment from Gastonia running back-return ace Kerrion Moore. Moore will be a senior at Hunter Huss in the fall. “We certainly have some talented players we have to replace,” said Cutcliffe, whose offense losing record-setting quarterback-receiver combination Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon among others. “But I like our depth on offense and defense. When we play our best, we can compete with anybody we have on our schedule.”
Richard Walker: 704-869-1841; twitter.com/JRWalk22