An unlikely school shook up the recruiting scene Friday.
Scott Bracey, a wide receiver from Benedictine High School in Richmond, Va., verbally committed to coach David Cutcliffe and the Duke Blue Devils. Bracey is the first commitment for Duke’s 2016 class — and he's a big one.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Bracey, who will be rated as one of the top 25 2016 recruits in the nation when Rivals.com releases its first rankings Monday, chose the defending ACC Coastal Division champions over scholarship offers from more than 25 of the top programs across the country.
Rivals.com Mid-Atlantic Recruiting Analyst Adam Friedman called Bracey “probably the biggest recruit to date” for Cutcliffe and his staff. For Bracey, there was one overriding factor where Duke stood out from the rest.
“Academics have been a big part of my recruitment,” Bracey told Rivals. “They’re a top 10 university in the world and there are a lot of benefits and opportunities that come with a Duke degree. I wanted a smaller school. I’ve been in a smaller environment at Benedictine and I’m used to the small school feel. Duke is two hours away from home and I didn’t want to go too far away.”
Of course, Duke’s landmark 2013 season when the program reached the 10-win plateau for the first time in its history, also played a role in Bracey’s decision. Cutcliffe’s squad notched a 10-2 regular season and a ACC Coastal Division title before falling to eventual National Champion Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. In the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Blue Devils battled Texas A&M down to the wire, but ultimately fell, 52-48.
"I feel like the football program is building something," Bracey said. "They just went 10-2 last year and this 2015 recruiting class is in the top 20. They have a bunch of commits already in the 2015 class. They have the kids from California already committed. I think this is the start of something big. They have nine players on the preseason awards watch lists. I think they're starting something special and I want to be a part of that."
Despite offers from schools like Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, South Carolina, Tennessee and many others, Bracey told Rivals that his commitment is “solid” and that he doesn’t see himself “decommitting or trying to go check out other schools.”
He believes in what Duke is building.
“I could see with the 2015 class how people can kind of see a new era for Duke football. They were ACC coastal champions last year and I feel like they could win it again this year,” Bracey said. “They have a lot of returning players. The coaches really didn't have to sell much with the academics. They're taking out the track around the field and adding more seats to give it more of a college football feel. I just think it's a new era for them and I want to be a part of that."
Bracey's commitment is just further evidence of the fantastic job Cutcliffe continues to do at Duke. In the four seasons prior to his arrival in 2008, the Blue Devils won a combined four games. Since then, he has built to the program to its current state.
Cutcliffe's teams didn't win more than five games in a season from 2008-2011, but in 2012 the Blue Devils reached six wins and were invited to the Belk Bowl — the program's first bowl appearance since 1995. The 2013 season was a huge step forward, and the team won ten games with a roster comprised of mostly two- and three-star prospects.
The team's on-field success now has started to attract some higher-rated prospects. As Bracey alluded to, the Blue Devils have three four-star commitments in the 2015 class, and they are all from California. Tight end Tyler Petite chose Duke over offers from USC and Stanford, while three-star Georgia wide receiver Keyston Fuller had offers from Georgia, Clemson and Texas A&M.
Only time will tell if the program's recruiting momentum will pay off on the field, but Cutcliffe and company are certainly on the right track.
The first installment of Rivals.com’s 2016 rankings will be unveiled Monday. Check back with Rivals to see where Bracey and the nation’s other top prospects land.
For more Duke news, visit DevilsIllustrated.com.
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