David Helton, like most of his college football peers, spent the summer getting ready for the 2014 season.
For Helton, though, there was an extra surge of intensity, and most of his workouts were charged with adrenaline. The Duke linebacker lifted with exuberance and sprinted with enthusiasm.
"I feel more explosive and faster than last year," the 6-foot-4, 238-pound Baylor School graduate said. "I really focused on becoming the best player I could be in my last year of college football. This being my last year has been a big internal drive."
He'll have to go some to top his 2013 numbers, when he led the Atlantic Coast Conference with 133 tackles and proved to be an integral part of the Blue Devils' first 10-win season since beginning football in 1888.
"You've got to play a lot of snaps and play consistently to have that many tackles," coach David Cutcliffe told The Chronicle, Duke's student newspaper. "David does his job. He does it consistently, he does it without drama and I think David cherishes his role. He's going to make the plays he's supposed to make."
Helton has grown with the Cutcliffe-era program, playing as a true freshman, starting half the games as a sophomore and stepping into a full-time starting role a year ago. He's now on the Lott Award watch list for defensive impact players.
"The time has gone by so quickly," he said. "It's hard, maybe human nature, to be working and not thinking about enjoying it until game time. Looking back on my first three years, I realize I want to have fun this year. It's going to be gone quickly -- like the first three years."
He's hopeful that Duke, which is included in most initial Top 25 polls, can repeat the feat of 2013.
"We're extremely capable. As we talk about it, we realize that winning and losing is a matter of very tight numbers," he said. "Four of our 10 victories were decided in the fourth quarter, and we were as close to 6-6 as 10-4. There's a very thin line. We have a ton of returnees and a lot of players looking to do well, but we have to stay tied to our goals."
The Blue Devils already are facing adversity, which directly affects Helton. Kelby Brown, another of Duke's 100-tackle performers and his linebacking mate a year ago, has been lost for the season with a torn ACL. Helton has been shifted to Brown's spot, "which will be an adjustment for the whole defense," he said.
"Kelby was a big playmaker, and while it's anything but ideal for him to be injured, we have a good group of young linebackers that are solid."
Helton will be calling the defensive signals and making adjustments to formations.
He could graduate in December, but that graduation may roll into May because of some extra degree requirements. That extra semester would give him more time on campus to prepare for NFL workouts, the combine and the draft.
"I hope the NFL is in my future. I'd like to have a shot," he said. "Obviously I have to have a good year this year. I think I have the intangibles to make it, but I need and want to stay tied more to team goals right now."
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...