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Duke QB Riley Leonard enters NCAA transfer portal

Duke Blue Devils quarterback Riley Leonard (13) tries to avoid a sack by Louisville Cardinals defensive lineman Ashton Gillotte (9) during the second quarter at L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium.

Duke Blue Devils quarterback Riley Leonard (13) tries to avoid a sack by Louisville Cardinals defensive lineman Ashton Gillotte (9) during the second quarter at L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium.

USA TODAY Sports

After growing from an overwhelmed freshman starter into one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks, Duke’s Riley Leonard will finish his career elsewhere.

The junior announced on Instagram Wednesday his intention to leave the Blue Devils and entered his name in the NCAA Transfer Portal.

The move comes two days after Texas A&M introduced former Duke coach Mike Elko as its new head coach. But Leonard had been considering such a move long before the coaching change.

“I chose Duke because I wanted a school where i could be around those who are the best at what they do,” Leonard said in a lengthy Instagram message. “I knew that meant I wouldn’t be the smartest guy in the room, that every day I’d need to push myself and compete the best I could. And that’s what I did. As a result, I’ve made the difficult decision to leave knowing I’m better prepared for the challenges ahead — on an off the field.”

Various media reports immediately linked Leonard to Notre Dame. Another possibility is Auburn, where his girlfriend is a student.

Leonard, from Fairhope, Alabama, completed 57.6% of his passes in seven games this season with three touchdown throws and three interceptions. He rushed for 352 yards and four touchdowns.

He came to Duke in 2021 to play for coach David Cutcliffe. Leonard started one game, a 48-17 loss at Virginia Tech, during a 3-9 season that marked the end of Cutlciffe’s tenure with Duke.

The Blue Devils hired Elko, who picked Leonard as his starting quarterback in August 2022 while moving the other contender, Jordan Moore, to wide receiver.

Though Duke had dropped 13 consecutive ACC games at that point, Leonard led the Blue Devils to a 9-4 overall record (5-3 in ACC) last season and capped it with a 30-13 win over UCF in the Military Bowl.

He played all 13 games, throwing for 2,967 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions. In addition, Leonard rushed for 699 yards while running for 13 touchdowns.

This season, Leonard led Duke to a 28-7 season-opening win over Clemson and had the Blue Devils at 4-0 before he suffered a high ankle sprain on the team’s final play from scrimmage in a 21-14 loss to Notre Dame.

Leonard missed Duke’s 24-3 win over N.C. State that moved the Blue Devils to 5-1. He returned and played three quarters at Florida State before reinjuring the ankle with Duke up 20-17 late in the third quarter. Everything unraveled from there and the Blue Devils lost 38-20.

Leonard played the following Saturday at Louisville as Duke lost 23-0. But he suffered a serious turf toe injury on his left foot late in the game. He needed surgery to repair the injury and was not able to play for the Blue Devils again.

Duke used redshirt freshman Henry Belin IV against N.C. State. But a right shoulder injury limited him to that one start. Freshman Grayson Loftis started Duke’s final four games, leading the team to wins over Wake Forest and Pittsburgh while dropping games at Louisville and North Carolina.

The Blue Devils also have quarterback Tyler Cherry, a four-star recruit, committed for the 2024 recruiting class.

This story was originally published November 29, 2023, 5:58 PM.

Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. In the Associated Press Sports Editors national contest, he’s placed in the top 10 in beat writing in 2019, 2021 and 2022, breaking news in 2019 and explanatory writing in 2018. Previously, Steve worked for The State (Columbia, SC), Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), Charlotte Observer and Hickory (NC) Daily Record covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly. He’s won numerous state-level press association awards. Steve graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.

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