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Duke's success delights Bunch

The philosophical realist in Curtiss Bunch knows that in years past, Duke University's academic reputation has far exceeded that of its football program.

The football player in Curtiss Bunch knows a 7-0 start has a way of changing perceptions, but that even with seven games of perfection the Blue Devils are still far more revered in intellectual circles than in football polls.

Duke, ranked No. 16 nationally, is a 23-point underdog for Saturday's showdown in Tallahassee with No. 9 Florida State _ not at all to Bunch's surprise.

"I expect that, because of where we come from," Bunch, a Central High graduate, said Thursday by telephone from Durham, N.C. "It's actually worked to our advantage.

"All teams seem to take us lightly, expecting us to be the same ol' Duke, but we knew we were going to be different. Once we play a team, they know we're a good team, but it's the teams we haven't played yet that don't respect us. It will probably be like this for two or three years, until we get the respect we deserve."

With a gaudy grade-point average and respectable SAT college-entrance exam score, the standout defensive lineman signed with Duke so that he could study at one of the nation's most prestigious universities and play Atlantic Coast Conference football.

Redshirted as a freshman two seasons ago, Bunch played as a reserve on a team that went 3-8 last season. During his travels back to Brooksville, he endured friendly-but-painful kidding from friends and former teammates.

"This makes it all the more better," he said of Duke's current success, "because I was getting tired of coming home in the summer, hearing "What's your guys' record?' and saying, "Well, we've won a couple.' Now, we're taking this to heart and enjoying it while we can."

The turnaround at Duke, Bunch said, began with the hiring of first-year coach Fred Goldsmith.

"Since the spring, when we got the coaching change, we got a new attitude," said Bunch, who is studying sociology and business. "As a team, we felt like we had a chance to do things, and we've just carried that all through to the fall."

Bunch started the season as a backup to his roommate, junior Bernard Holsey. They've split time throughout the season, with Bunch earning work as a starter the past four games, against Georgia Tech, Navy, Clemson and Wake Forest. He has recorded 12 total tackles, including three solo stops.

"It's a friendly competition," he said. "We're best of friends, and we don't take it personal when one of us starts and the other doesn't. Instead, we just both work hard in practice and push each other."

Last Saturday, on the second play of a game against Wake Forest, Bunch fell on a fumble in the end zone to score Duke's first touchdown in a 51-26 victory.

"I just happened to be the one who saw and jumped on it," said Bunch, who fielded calls from relatives and others at home who saw the play on an ESPN college football highlights show. "It was my first collegiate touchdown, so I wasn't going to let anyone else get to it first."

This Saturday in Tallahassee, Bunch will have relatives including his mother watching in person. He hopes to help show all that Duke is for real.

"They are the defending national champs, and they deserve that respect," Bunch said of the line making the Seminoles heavy favorites. "If I was a writer, I would probably put the same thing. We are the underdogs, so we just have to go out and play as hard as we can.

"It's real important to me that we come home and make a good showing for ourselves. We've been working hard all this week, so we're pretty confident we can come down and play like we have a chance to win. The last couple of years I wouldn't have had that feeling, but this year I really believe we can."

Win or lose, Bunch the realist is happy to be on a team that thinks it at least has a chance.

"I'm having a great time here," he said, "and now that football is picking up it's even better.

"To be honest, I didn't expect us to be 7-0. I expected us to be 5-2, maybe, but I never could have expected this. I can't lie and say I did."