DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – In just year two at the helm of the Duke University football team, Mike Elko has already lifted the program into the national spotlight.
Elko has led the Blue Devils to a 4-0 record in his second season, which includes a top-10 win over Clemson and rising to the No. 17 ranking in The Associated Press college football poll. After dominating their opposition through their first four games, Elko and company will have to tackle a challenging task this weekend as they welcome No. 11 Notre Dame into town.
With ESPN’s College GameDay coming to Durham for the first time ever on Saturday, Duke will have the nation’s attention. Elko says he knows making sure his team is prepared to balance this and the gameplan is something he will have to prep his players for.
“The first time hosting Gameday, with all the noise that’s around that,” Elko said during a press conference on Monday. “I told the guys this morning, we’re getting a lot of congratulations for Gameday coming here. I’d rather wait and get some congratulations for how we play football games on Saturday night. And just trying to stay focused on the task at hand, and that’s going out and having really good practices, getting the gameplan down and knowing what we’re trying to execute and knowing the things that are going to be important for us to go out and have success on Saturday.”
The undefeated start to the season hasn’t been a surprise to Elko and his coaching staff, but even he admits this quick ascent, and the national recognition the program has gotten is not what he expected this quickly in his Duke tenure.
“We had a ton of confidence in what Duke football could be,” Elko said. “That’s why I took the job. I did not take the job with the hope and expectation that we could be a middle-of-the-road program. That’s not why I came here. That’s not why I left my previous destination. That’s not who I am. That’s not really how I’m wired. Did I anticipate in game five of year two that we would be on this stage? No, of course not, and that’s a credit to our kids.”
“I certainly appreciate the recognition that our program is getting,” Elko continued. “I told our kids this morning that I’m excited for them that people are starting to recognize the work they’ve put into this thing and that’s starting to get acknowledged on a national stage, because they’ve certainly earned it and deserve it. But also I know how fleeting all of this is, and so that’s what keeps me grounded and that’s what the messaging to those guys is to stay grounded, and just continue to be humble and work, and that’s what we try to do.”
With so many eyes in the college football world fixed upon Durham on Saturday, Elko said the Fighting Irish will not be an easy team to deal with, especially coming off a heartbreaking, last-second loss at home to No. 4 Ohio State.
“I got a ton of respect for that program,” Elko said. “I got a lot of respect for Marcus Freeman and the job that he does. This is a complete football team.”