David Helton has 19 tackles in Duke's big upset

David Helton has 19 tackles in Duke's big upset

October 29th, 2013 by Ward Gossett in Sports - College

Unranked Duke 13, No. 16 Virginia Tech 10.

In the aftermath of the ongoing celebrations on his Durham, N.C., campus, Duke linebacker David Helton said in reflection that such a victory was inevitable but also just another brick in the wall.

"We knew [a big win] was going to come. We had one last year against North Carolina," the former Baylor School standout said Monday afternoon after acing a Latin exam. "This one just came at a perfect time for us -- our sixth win of the year and bowl eligibility."

The upset and Duke's second year of bowl eligibility have been part of the plan.

"It was absolutely something I envisioned when I committed to Duke, but when you're part of a change within a program it is really an awesome feeling," Helton said. "We as a team and the coaches are seeing us become what we thought we could be. We want to see how far we can get. We can envision an ACC championship whether it's this year, next year or five years from now."

Helton totaled 19 tackles Saturday against the Hokies, surpassing by nine his previous high set against Clemson a year ago.

"I remember when we were taking a knee in the last minute and 30 seconds, I was freaking out," he said. "It was amazing, so much fun."

It was Duke's first win over a ranked program since 1994 and the Blue Devils' first win on the road against a ranked team since 1971. They improved to 6-2, thus gaining bowl eligibility for the second consecutive year. They also received votes for the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

They also increased the expectations. Duke never previously had bowl teams in consecutive seasons.

"If we can continue, it can mean a great deal to the recruiting process [and] the intensity that surrounds a program," Duke coach David Cutcliffe, a longtime University of Tennessee assistant, told the Durham Herald-Sun. "I'm a believer in expectations. When you go into certain circumstances when the expectations are extreme, the performance can be extreme. I believe it's critical to create expectations."

Helton leads all ACC defensive players with 78 tackles (9.8 average), but it was teammate Kelby Brown who was named defensive player of the week by both the ACC and the Walter Camp Foundation. Brown had 14 tackles and a key fourth-quarter interception.

"I really never see that stuff," Helton said. "I love playing on this team and I love playing with Kelby. He's an absolutely great teammate, and I'm happy for him and for the team."

Duke has been an ideal match for Helton, and not just because of the football or his admiration and respect for Cutcliffe.

"Coach Cut hasn't changed at all, and this [win] won't change him," said Helton, who has balanced admirably the demands of football and stringent academic standards.

"I'm doing OK," the two-time academic all-conference pick said before grudgingly sharing the fact that he's carrying a 3.59 grade point average and is due to graduate in three and a half years (after the 2014 season). Helton is a psychology major with a marketing/managing certificate.

"I'm also getting a theater minor, but, no, I don't think I can make it as a movie star, unfortunately."

Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.