Duke's Boyette could be difference-maker in 09

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

For four years, Duke running backs Re'quan Boyette and Clifford Harris lived together, ate together, practiced together and laughed together. The two best friends also thought they'd leave together.

Boyette's season-ending knee injury last summer changed that plan. His return could make a huge difference in how the Blue Devils' 2009 season unfolds.

"At first it was very tough, because it was my senior season, we had a new start, new coaches, and everyone was excited about the season," said Boyette, Duke's leading rusher in 2006 and 2007. "To get hurt in the first week of practice, it was devastating at first. Then I just took it for what it was. Everything happens for a reason."

Boyette had surgery on his left knee on Aug. 9 after an injury that occurred during the first week of summer camp and was declared "out indefinitely," opening the door for his roommate, Harris. Boyette held out hope that he would be able to return before the 2008 season ended, but "in the back of our minds we kind of knew" that he would have to wait until 2009 to be cleared to play again. His season wasn't officially declared over until late October. The good news for Boyette was that he had a redshirt season to spare.

Boyette has played in 33 career games with 10 starts, and rushed 251 times for 1,072 yards while catching 30 passes for 140 yards. He has five career touchdown runs and owns the 10th-longest rush from scrimmage in Duke history with a 78-yard run against Florida State on October 22, 2005.

Boyette is still in rehab and isn't quite 100 percent yet, but those within the program are hopeful his full recovery can make a noticeable difference this year in Duke's running game. The Blue Devils also return 2008 leading rusher Jay Hollingsworth as well as running backs Tony Jackson, Cameron Jones and Patrick Kurunwune. That depth, combined with the return of senior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, could help push Duke beyond last year's four-win mark. It should also help take some pressure off of Lewis while he figures out which receiver will step up and help fill the void left by Eron Riley.

"We each bring something to the table the other one doesn't, and that's hard on defenses, I think," Boyette said. "With Thad being the quarterback he is, that makes us more dynamic. Jay has power, Tony has speed, I bring a mixture of power and speed. Patrick Kurunwune, he's a stocky, big guy, so he'll bring power to the backfield. I think we'll be more explosive and with my leadership and experience, which is what I tried to instill in them last year but wasn't able to do on the field, I think that will help us out a lot and we'll be one of the better backfields in the league."

The most difficult part of 2008 wasn't the injury, Boyette said, it was not being on the field with his senior teammates. Harris finished as the second-leading rusher with 345 yards and a team-high three touchdowns.

"We're pretty much the same person," Boyette said of he and Harris. "We know what each other's thinking and things like that. It's funny, to be able to click with somebody ... you come to college and thing nobody's going to be like me, but I found a friend in Cliff and we realized we had so much in common. It was easier to adjust to college. Throw Eron (Riley) in the mix, those two guys, they're like two of my best friends on the team. I appreciate them for the things they did when I was hurt. I'm going to miss those guys, but I know they have to go on, and I'm going to be here. They're always welcome back here."