In college football, major Power 5 schools schedule the directional state schools and even some FCS schools for what is supposed to be a less physical game and an easy win. At the developmental level, teams in the Midwest used to schedule the Cincinnati Dukes for this same reason, but not anymore.
The Dukes have been a pleasant surprise in the young Blue Collar Football League season and currently sit at 4-1 overall.
“We’re proving it’s not the same team as in years past,” Dukes offensive and defensive line coach Jacob Ware recently told Developmental Football USA. “In the past, teams would laugh when they found out they were playing the Dukes. This year, the players came together and decided they didn’t want to be that same team anymore.”
Regardless of what the rest of this BCFL season holds for the Dukes, a fire has been lit within the organization that’s allowed them to shake off their old identity and push for greener pastures.
“We’re excited for a fresh start for our franchise that had been considered a pushover,” Ware said. “We’re excited with everyone buying in and looking forward to a good underdog year.”
Not just a talented team, but a confident team that is building some momentum, the Dukes are expecting to make a strong post-season push.
“This year, I’d say yes,” Ware said. “In the beginning of the year, ever since we got together, we asked the guys what the team was known for. Their response was, ‘Hey your team folded, go play for the Dukes to get some playing time.’
“Our theme this year is trusting the process and we’ll get there. We have the pieces, we have the talent and when they get going our defense is unstoppable. A lot of people are coming together, buying in and trusting the process, we have a lot of great talent on this team.”
The Dukes were off for the holiday weekend and return to action this Saturday against the Butler County Broncos. In their last game, Cincinnati shut out the Dayton Oilers 18-0.
“That was huge for us,” Ware said. “We scored 18 unanswered points in the second half, it was awesome. Then, our defense held them under 150 yards of total offense.”
Defensive end Donald Duskin and inside linebackers Zac Demsey and Frank Moore have led the charge for the much improved Dukes defense in 2017. Moore is the team’s tackles leader through five games.
“Donald is currently leading our team in sacks with five on the year and a total of 23 tackles,” Ware said. “He’s all-around a great speed rusher. He’s been playing at this level now for about six years. He’s been a help, being a veteran on this team.
“Zac became an all-star last year. He has 18 tackles, three tackles for losses and a safety. He’s really come into form and he has really good size at about 240 or 250 and he’s really quick on his feet.”
Offensively, quarterback Kimani Murray and wide receiver Alvin Grace Jr. have stood out for the Dukes, Ware said.
“They are both first year players, but they’ve come out and been excited about the program and helped revamp some different things,” Ware said.
Murray has thrown for five touchdowns and added another two scores on the ground this season.
Saturday should prove to be a good test for the Dukes, who will be tested plenty as they move into the heart of league play.
“The Tanks, the Gladiators and the Broncos, those will be tests to see how we measure up and give us a chance to shock the state of Ohio,” Ware said.
“The Broncos is a team that’s been respected for a couple of years. They have one of the best running backs in state of Ohio. In Week 1, he rushed for more than 250 yards. He’s a phenomenal running back, should be playing in college.”
At a level where teams change so much year to year, the pecking order of leagues can be just as unpredictable. Even then, the best organizations usually maintain a pretty good flow of consistency.
“West Portsmouth, hands down, is the top dog,” Ware said. “It would be between West Portsmouth, the West Virginia Lightning and the Butler County Broncos. The Gladiators have a shot, but they’re kind of unproven so far this year. Without a shadow of a doubt, the top two teams are the West Portsmouth Tanks and the West Virginia Lightning.”
The Tanks took care of the Lightning 32-18 on May 21 and will control their own destiny in terms of the playoff picture.
“In West Virginia, the Lightning have always been around,” Ware said. “They may lose a few tough games, but when it comes to playoffs, they always bring the fight. Butler County has been through a lot this year. They played the Crush early on, played the Kings Comets, they wanted to face tough competition and be ready for the season and they’ve got a good squad.”
Photo Cred: Neitra Done’a