DURHAM, N.C. -- Linebacker Kelby Brown and Duke don't want to live in the past.
Even when that past includes the best football season in school history.
Brown and the Blue Devils are tired of being asked about Johnny Manziel and the Chick-fil-A Bowl, those 10 wins and their unexpected run to the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.For Brown, it's easy to move beyond 2013 when this year carries so much promise.
The Blue Devils don't figure to be last-place picks anymore, as they perennially were. They enter 2014 as legitimate contenders in the Coastal Division.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Brown said, "As the offseason moves on, you kind of get sick of hearing about last season."
He said, "There's something exciting about moving on to what's ahead."
Brown enters his senior season as the undisputed leader ofå a Duke defense that improved significantly last year and is looking to make even more progress.
The Blue Devils return six starters from a defense that allowed averages of 26.6 points and 418 total yards in 2013 after giving up roughly 10 more points and 50 more yards per game during a 6-7 finish in 2012.
"I don't think we have guys on the team who like to dwell on the past," Brown said. "We could have dwelled on [the 2012] season, but then what happened? We went 10-4. ... If we just keep climbing, there's more to be had."
The Blue Devils are counting on Brown to lead them there.
He's gotten it done on the field, with at least five tackles in all but one game he played last season and finishing with 10 or more stops in four of them. He has 22 tackles for loss in his career and intercepted two passes in 2013.
Told by defensive coordinator Jim Knowles that "you are the leader of the defense now," Brown picked up some pointers on leadership when he and about 10 teammates met with Joe LeBoeuf, a former Army colonel who's now part of the faculty at Duke's business school.
"His whole thing was, an organization that's built on trust is going to thrive," Brown said. "That's kind of what we want to build in our program, guys who trust each other, look up to each other, trust their coaches, and I think that shows we're going to thrive. ... Hopefully, I can be a leader who guys will trust, and they'll believe in me as a team player."
The Blue Devils' remarkable rise from ACC doormat to Coastal Division champion was built on trust and a bit of blind faith.
Duke was one of the first schools to recruit Brown out of Charlotte Christian High School in the late 2000s, he said. A meeting in coach David Cutcliffe's office made him a believer.
"He sat me down and he told me straight up, 'We're going to win the ACC,'" Brown said of Cutcliffe. "It wasn't a blink in his eye. No hesitation, and I mean, I was bought in. ... I've never seen a coach who was so confident in what he was doing, and he knew beyond a doubt where it was heading."
Not many others on the outside did, especially after the Blue Devils went 3-9 in each of Brown's first two seasons in 2010 and '11. The following year provided a different type of test for Brown -- who redshirted after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament and missed out on Duke's first bowl game since 1994."That year taught me a lot and as the season went on, I started to realize how much I had to learn as being a leader but not playing," Brown said. "I learned how to encourage, how not to be the negative voice anymore, how to be the positive voice at all times. ... It wasn't something I would have been able to learn if I was playing."
Now it's time to put those lessons into practice for one last year at Duke.
Brown, who graduated with a degree in evolutionary anthropology, is taking the Medical College Admission Test and will spend his fifth year as a postgraduate enrolled in Duke's divinity school.
He might wind up as a minister. Or a doctor. Or an NFL linebacker. Or some combination of the three.
"My future is up in the air, and that's exciting because I don't really know where I'm going to end up," Brown said.
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