Bowl game is their focus over the NFL
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Bowl game is their focus over the NFL

Redshirt juniors Daniel Jones and Joe Giles-Harris want to win for seniors

Photo: Joe Giles-Harris

For a couple of redshirt juniors that NFL scouts have bird-dogged the past two seasons, Duke’s Daniel Jones and Joe Gilles-Harris don’t sound like guys looking ahead to 2019 NFL Draft at the expense of their teammates' bowl experience..

Jones, a third-year starting quarterback, and Giles-Harris, a third-year starting inside linebacker, both have endured enough injuries to join the recent trend – which includes healthy players -- of skipping bowl games to protect their draft projections.

Jones suffered a broken collarbone to his non-throwing shoulder that kept him out of two games and a bye week earlier this season; he also has played through leg injuries limiting his mobility. Last year's upper-body injuries never were clarified.

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Giles-Harris has missed the last three games with a strained knee suffered at Miami. He’s taken up residence in the training room since then to receive treatment.

But both players referred to themselves as part of a collection of Blue Devils (7-5) that are playing for the seniors on the roster in the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl against Temple (8-4) at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday in Shreveport, La.

“I think everyone realizes we’re playing for those guys,” said Jones. “This is their last opportunity to play as part of the Duke football team. We’ll try to honor them in everything we done leading up to (the bowl game).”

Giles-Harris, simply by meeting with the media, made a statement. As someone who may miss his fourth straight game, he could have easily ducked questions about his desire to play.

“I’m just trying to get better every day,” he said of his treatments. “Right now I’m day to day. I don’t have a percentage for anybody, but I’m working so I can play.”

Both players, when asked during the season about the NFL draft, consistently have said they’re focused on their season. Duke coach David Cutcliffe, as is usual practice, will help them with research to determine their NFL draft projections.

As fourth-year juniors, they both passed up chances to turn pro a year ago when they were first heard draft projections. They were eligible as redshirt sophomores three years removed from high school. They might still decide to turn pro this second time around, but they aren't providing hints or displaying eagerness to move on.

Jones, a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder from Charlotte Latin, has been projected as high as a first-round draft pick. But Cutcliffe told a story that illustrated that if the NFL is on his mind he hasn’t shared his thoughts with his coach. In fact, he said when Jones' father called him one day, he told him that he might know more about what Daniel is thinking than him since his quarterback all season hasn’t hinted at anything beyond the next game.

Giles-Harris, a 6-2, 240-pounder from Nayack, N.Y., and St. Joseph Regional High in New Jersey, earned first-team All-ACC honors for the second straight year despite missing the last three games.

This year’s bowl scenario is in contrast to last year’s motivation to beat Northern Illinois in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. Duke, after suffering six straight losses, needed to win its final two games to earn bowl eligibility and follow up with a bowl victory for a winning record. The Blue Devils managed the hat trick, defeating Georgia Tech and Wake Forest to finish the regular season and then Northern Illinois for a 7-6 record.

This season Duke already has a winning record clinched at 7-5, but Jones and Giles Harris said the 59-7 loss at home to Wake Forest in the regular-season finale provides a different kind of motivation.

“Absolutely,” Giles-Harris said. “The Wake Forest game left a bad taste in our mouths. That’s not who we are. It’s not how we play football. It’s not how we want to be known. We’re excited for this opportunity. We’ve got to show up because we know what happens when we don’t.”

Another contrast is the Independence Bowl has a tradition that pre-dates the proliferation of bowl games fueled by television money that outweighs winning records and fan attendance. The Independence Bowl, playing in 65,000-seat Independence Stadium that is the home of Louisiana Tech, dates to 1976.

It was one of only 12 bowl games (24 teams) that season – compared to 39 (78 teams) for the 2018.

Cutcliffe, who has led Duke to its sixth bowl game in seven years while turning around what was one of the worst programs in college football, has coached in the Independence Bowl three times prior to Duke. As the head coach at Ole Miss, his teams beat Texas Tech, 1998; Oklahoma, 1999; and Nebraska, 2002. He was enshrined into the Independence Bowl Hall of Honor is 2003.

Jones said the players recognize the community’s backing has helped the bowl thrive into its fifth decade. Shreveport’s population is only 199,000, but its distance from New Orleans and other bigger cities with pro sports makes it the only game in town this time of year.

“It’s cool to be part of the tradition,” Jones said. “I look forward to seeing the same and the local traditions that get everybody excited about the game.”

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Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom has also written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Voice of San Diego, Chargers.com, Rivals.com, and Gameday Central. He has won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003 and USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter its President’s Award in 2000.

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