By AL FEATHERSTON
Tony Foster can't quite believe that he's about to play his last football game at Wallace Wade Stadium.
"It's kind of surreal," the fifth-year senior cornerback said Tuesday. "It feels like I just got here. To actually be thinking about playing my last game at Wallace Wade, it's just exciting and nerve-wracking ... but the best way to go out would be with a victory."
Duke will honor 20 seniors before Saturday's final regular season football game against Miami at Wallace Wade Stadium. The class includes 10 players who have started for the Blue Devils this season and 10 who have played in backup roles or on the scout team.
"I'm really excited about what these guys have accomplished - some names familiar and some not," Coach David Cutcliffe said. "This is an exceptional group of fourth and fifth-year seniors. I'm very, very proud that they leave here representing our program."
One of those seniors is fifth-year center Brian Moore.
"I don't know where the last five seasons have gone," he said. "I'm excited - I don't know the last time the team could be 6-1 in Wallace Wade. As a senior, that's something I want to accomplish. It's a big ACC game for us anyway."
Moore and Foster, along with quarterback Sean Renfree, safety Jordon Byas and cornerback Lee Butler, are members of Cutcliffe's first recruiting class at Duke - which includes several players who were originally contacted by former coach Ted Roof. The fourth-year seniors - which include such prominent players as wide receivers Connor Vernon and Desmond Scott, safety Walt Canty and linebacker Austin Gamble - are members of Cutcliffe's first full recruiting class.
"They came in to a very intense circumstance, where there was a lot of conditioning and a sense of urgency," he said of the players who have grown with his program. "You can't mention these guys without mentioning the guys who preceded them. Everybody bought in, so the good part is that this group only learned one way."
One of the lessons these seniors have learned is that Duke demands more than just success on the field.
"Most of these guys have had a 3.0-plus GPA semester after semester," Cutcliffe said. "Eight or nine [semesters] in a row of a team grade point average over 3.00 - and that's at Duke. They've been a part of that. Because everything has mattered, each year when a freshman class has come in, they've shown the way."
These seniors are proud of what they have accomplished on the field this year. When they committed to Duke, the program was in bad shape after winning just two games total in the three seasons before Cutcliffe's arrival.
Now the Blue Devils are 6-5 heading into the Miami game.
"When Coach Cut recruited me, he said we had the opportunity to change the program," Foster said. "What greater feeling could you have than to come into a program that needs help and leave it better than you find it - leave it with a different culture. To go out my senior year, beating Carolina, going to a bowl game and possibly still having a chance for a winning season - that would be a perfect story."
But Foster wants even more than that.
"Hopefully, after I leave, the program goes to new heights," he said. "I'll know I was one of the people who helped establish that."
Cutcliffe loves hearing that.
"That's the most important thing - it's what you leave behind," he said. "It's not etched in a bowl championship or a ring you wear on your finger. It's the people you leave behind. Are they better for having been around you? They've taken that to heart."
Incidentally, one senior on this year's roster will not be honored Saturday - but that's good news. Fifth-year senior defensive end Kenny Anunike, who missed most of two seasons with injury, confirmed Tuesday that he will return next season for the sixth year granted him by the NCAA.
NO TITLE, BUT STILL HIGH STAKES
Duke's chances of winning the ACC's Coastal Division ended with last Saturday's loss at Georgia Tech, but that doesn't mean the Blue Devils don't still have plenty to play for against Miami.
"The prospect of a seventh win ... and that allowing an eighth win - if you accomplish that, is significant," Cutcliffe said.
Although Duke will be going to a bowl no matter what happens against Miami, the outcome of that game could have a huge impact on which bowl Duke plays in. With a victory over the Hurricanes, Duke would finish with the third-best record of any of the ACC's eligible bowl team.
And with Florida State and possibly Clemson headed to BCS bowls, a win could put Duke in the mix for the ACC's top tier bowls.
With a loss, Duke would be 6-6 and farther down the ACC bowl pecking order.
"I haven't looked at bowls, but I know with more wins, we'll play in higher bowls," sophomore linebacker C.J. France said. "I just feel like every game is important, no matter about bowl positioning. We're playing an ACC team and we want to go out and win the game."
Junior cornerback Ross Cockrell wouldn't mind playing in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte (No. 4 in the ACC bowl selection order) because it's not far from his home in Waxhaw, N.C. But he also wouldn't mind a trip to Orlando -- and a visit to Disney World -- either.
"I want to be in the best bowl that we can be in," he said. "This is the first time we've experienced this, so we want it to be the best experience possible."
Still, the one thing every Duke player seemed to agree on was that the bowl destination is not as important as finishing with a winning season. To do that, the Devils need to either beat Miami or win their bowl game.
"It's very important that we finish with a winning season and get a good taste for next season," France said. "Our seniors definitely deserve a winning season."
Sophomore running back Josh Snead suggested that a winning season could have important long-term consequences.
"It's very important," he said. "It says a lot of the program. It helps in all parts of the program - from recruiting to the players' morale to just having confidence out there that we can go out and win ball games every Saturday.
"We've got a young team. We may have a lot of seniors leaving, but we've actually got a young team - a lot of players playing at an early age. I feel like the program has no choice but to get better and better."
RENFREE TAKES HOME POP WARNER AWARD
Senior quarterback Sean Renfree has been named the winner of the Pop Warner National College Football Award, given annually to the Pop Warner alumnus who has best made a difference on the field, in the classroom and in the community.
"We're looking for a scholar-athlete who embodies what we're trying to teach younger kids," Jon Butler, the executive director of the Pop Warner Little Scholars program said. "The reason we selected Sean was that we look at on-the-field and off-the-field success -- that combination in both fields at such a high level made him the choice."
Renfree who is finishing his career as one of the top passers in Duke and ACC history -- he's going to set the school's career record for passing accuracy and he already ranks fourth in the conference record books for career competitions and 14th in passing yards -- has also been a superb student -- a four-time member of the ACC's Academic Honor Roll and a two-time Academic All-ACC selection.
"I would hope in this era of football, where Sean Renfrees are so needed, I would hope [this award would get] positive attention," the Duke coach said. "To have started as many games, to have been as effective as he has been, to have been as humble as he has been, and to have accomplished so much for this university, we need to celebrate Sean Renfree.
"I think sometimes he's taken for granted."
Renfree said he started playing Pop Warner football when his family moved to Arizona when he was in the fourth grade. He started in a flag football program and graduated to tackle football. He played Pop Warner ball until he entered high school.
"Pop Warner is where I was first introduced to football and where I learned to be competitive on the field," Renfree said.
Renfree said it has not been easy to learn to balance football and academics at Duke.
"To be honest, it takes practice," he said. "It was difficult for me as a freshman, but I learned to manage time efficiently. It all starts with Coach Cutcliffe. It's not just football. He wants his players to excel in the classroom and with community service. He wants us to be well-rounded. He embodies that."
Renfree beat out three other finalists for the award, including Miami running back Mike James, UConn wide receiver Nick Williams and Michigan offensive lineman Patrick Omameh.
Renfree has also been selected as a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete, a member of the American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team and is a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award.
CUTCLIFFE SQUELCHES SPECULATION
In the last week or so, David Cutcliffe has found himself in the middle of media speculation about a number of vacant -- or soon to be vacant -- coaching jobs, including Tennessee and Kentucky as well as Auburn and/or Arkansas.
The Duke coach wouldn't address any specific rumors, but he met with his team Sunday night to tell them that he is not entertaining any job offers.
"I just wanted to put it to rest because I knew the answer," he said. "It's not appropriate to talk about other schools. I told them I'm happy where I am. I'm Duke's coach ... I'm going to be Duke's coach ... 100 percent I have no intention or will not go anywhere. Period. It's over. It's put to rest."
Cutcliffe didn't want anybody to read any lofty sentiments into his declaration.
"I'm not being honorable," he said. "I just didn't want anything to disrupt what we're doing. I feel very strongly about this program, about the people in this program. I feel very strongly about the future of this program. I feel strongly about the players, the staff, the administrators, the coaches and I wanted that to be very clear in that room."
He did admit that he hoped to send a message to one audience.
"I feel strongly about the people we're recruiting," he said. "I made sure they knew Sunday night. There wasn't time to get cute about it.
"In this era of the word de-commitment -- which really means you've never been committed; I don't care much for that word -- it was a great opportunity to make a point to a bunch of young people who do need to learn more and more what commitment means -- because they don't see enough of that."
Cutcliffe found it hard to get too emotional about the news that Maryland will be leaving the ACC for the Big Ten.
"I haven't been here long enough to be emotional about anybody leaving," he said. "My take is, Anybody who doesn't want to be here -- go."
Cutcliffe was 1-1 in two meetings with the Terps. But the two teams have not played since 2010.
"They're not on our schedule any time soon -- nor will they be," he said.
The Duke coach was less concerned with Maryland's exit than with future moves.
"You know there's going to be more change," Cutcliffe said. "My initial thought was, 'Don't panic folks, this is not over yet.'
"I'll be interested to see what happens. But I don't worry about things I can't control."