Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk has a bit of an unconventional background, having never been a full-time signal caller until his senior year of high school. But with Brandon Connette transferring to Fresno State to be closer to his sick mother, Sirk -- just more than a year removed from a right Achilles tear -- now finds himself with the chance to seize a much bigger role for the reigning Coastal Division champions, as the redshirt sophomore has the inside track to earn some meaningful playing time behind Anthony Boone in 2014.
ESPN.com caught up with Sirk last week to discuss how he's preparing for his new role.
What was your reaction when you found out Brandon Connette was leaving?
Thomas Sirk: Me and Brandon were very close. When I came on my official visit here to Duke, Brandon Connette was my host. We have a big brother program here; he was my big brother. Me and Brandon, we always hung out and stuff, so it was kind of sad to hear he was going to go. It felt like I was losing a brother, a teammate and a great player. Me and him had a talk, and we kind of talked about what needs to happen now, and it kind of gave me a lot of confidence going into my role this summer, knowing that I'm stepping back into the spot I was in last spring before I tore my Achilles, and that I have to mature as a player and get ready to play. I have to be game-ready. I have to be ready to step in. I was excited for Brandon, he had the opportunity to play there, and also the opportunity that he gave me. He's competing for the starting job there and it allowed me the opportunity to compete for the starting job here. Overall, I think going into the summer it changed the way that I was going to perform this summer. It kind of changed my attitude about things, I'd say. Just the way I went into the summer. I wasn't down on myself by any means, and I know I still have a lot of work to do and I know I still have a lot to accomplish this summer. But I heard about Brandon, and it was immediately, like next day I had to get into the film room, start studying more and more. I knew I was going to have to watch more and more film.
What's the competition like with Parker Boehme?
TS: Parker and I, we work together, we watch film together. Any way that we can help each other, we're going to do so. We have a great relationship off the field but we know when we get on the field it's a competition. Same way with Boone, we're out there competing. Obviously we both came here to play. … That's kind of been the relationship with Parker and I. We'll help each other out in any way. It's not, 'I'm not going to tell you something because I think that's going to give me an advantage.' We tell each other what we do wrong, we tell each other what we do good. That's kind of the way our program's built around each other. We don't ever knock someone down in any way, shape or form. That's kind of the competition, and I know that competition makes players better, and I enjoy the competition with myself, with Boone and with Parker. I know they enjoy the competition, it makes the players more well-rounded and the urgency starts kicking in the film room more and we grow that relationship with other players.
What's it like to work with Scottie Montgomery? What's he like now in his current role?
TS: I like going into the meeting rooms with Coach Montgomery and on the field, because Coach Montgomery brings excitement wherever he's at. He brings urgency wherever he's at. He knows what we have to get done. We wouldn't want it any less than that because he knows we all could be great players if he pushes us to the point where we need to be each and every day. That's the mentality that I like. …. The quarterback drills that we have, his relationship with us, he's grown more with us, grown that bond with us like we had with Coach [Kurt] Roper, and I think that's definitely something that I've enjoyed when he's been in our quarterback room.
The spring seems so long ago, but what did you take from it?
TS: There's a lot of things in the spring that I could say I could go back and work on, and I'd tell you in the spring that I wasn't 100 percent but it was just a good opportunity for me to go back into football. And since then I've gotten a lot healthier, I put up tremendously on all of my leg work, my speed has progressed a lot also. But I'd say I need to work on my accuracy and I need to work on my preparation of everything that's going on before the snap. Just knowing the down and distance, knowing the play clock, knowing the time on the clock in general, along with knowing the plays. And since then when I watch film now, I put myself in situations that I think are going to happen in the game. For instance, if it's third-and-6, I go through one of our route combinations to see -- I'll go back and watch Sean Renfree and Boone and all the way back to Thad Lewis, just watching their decision-making. That's become a big thing for me since the spring, is knowing the down and distance and knowing the situation. I think that I'll be more game-ready when the time comes for me just because I've trained myself for then and even just going out on the field and having that play clock out there, I think that all that stuff maters. To be a well-rounded quarterback you have to not only perform well but you have to know the game, and I think that I know the plays very well. I'm very [knowledgeable] in our playbook and I think since the spring I've gotten a lot better with knowing the game of football and knowing different coverages. For instance, in the spring I would know where the coverage went if the safeties rotated, but I may have been a little unsure or indecisive on where I wanted to go with the ball, and that's the kind of situation I'm putting myself in now. If they do bring the Sam 'backer or Mike 'backer off the edge, then I know how to react. Where am I going to go with the ball? So just being able to react to the game and play faster is the biggest takeaway I got from the spring.
Coming back from the Achilles tear, how do you think you've grown as a football player long-term?
TS: It's one of those situations you never wished happen, but after that happened I couldn't control it. So I got the most out of the situation. I think I matured as a player, I matured as a person, just in my habits and the things that I do. I know the game of football 100 percent more now than I did when I got injured, and I feel more confident in myself now that I'm fully healthy that I'm going to come back as a player that is even better than I was before my Achilles [tear]. Football-knowledge, coverage-knowledge, knowing our playbook -- I think the opportunity that I've had to go through a whole football season watching the speed of the game from the sidelines is different from watching my true freshman year because I wasn't comfortable with the playbook then. But after watching this season standing on the sideline I kind of put myself in a lot of situations that Anthony and Brandon were putting themselves in out on the field. I got to watch a lot of football and I think that's progressed me as a player. I think that now as another year's gone by and the time's come just for me to play, I think that I'll be more ready in those situations than ever.