DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Before he ever took a step, it was a good bet Gunnar Holmberg would be a superb athlete. His dad was a wrestler at Slippery Rock University. His uncle Rob was drafted by the Raiders and played eight seasons in the NFL. His great uncle was George Blanda. Yeah, that George Blanda.
Now Holmberg is finally getting his chance to shine.
“I think that’s something I always hoped for when you want to be a college quarterback,” the Duke signal-caller said. “You always look to try and be a starter.”
If the past is precedent, the Blue Devils are in good hands. At Heritage High, Holmberg was co-offensive player of the year in the Cap 8 4-A Conference in his junior and senior seasons. He threw for 2,730 yards and 26 touchdowns in his final campaign — both of which are school single-season records.
His time at Duke has been a test of patience. A knee injury in 2019 and playing behind upperclassmen delayed his debut.
“Injuries happen. There’s guys you sit behind like Daniel Jones, Quentin Harris, Chase Brice, but you just try and learn as much as you possibly can behind them,” Holmberg said. “It feels like it took forever in the moment, but now that I’m here, it’s kind of the blink of an eye. So it’s very cool. It’s a very cool experience to be the oldest guy in the room now.”
“I’ve watched Gunnar since he got here in 2018 and he’s progressed tremendously,” said Duke cornerback Josh Blackwell. “I think he’s taken on the role very well. I think he’s prepared and I think he will shock a lot of people this year.”
That’s not to say Holmberg didn’t have his doubts. When you sit for that amount of time it’s understandable to question things. Thankfully, Holmberg didn’t let it eat away at his competitiveness.
“You let it get to your head a little bit,” Holmberg said. “I think if you’re able to stay on track, kind of maintain and keep your head in the playbook, you know, keep your mind right as you’re going through the process to be a starter. It’s not an easy thing to do in the ACC.”
This season, his patience and hard work are paying off. He’s taking all the first-team snaps. He’s fully recovered from his knee injury. He knows the playbook cover to cover. And most important of all, he has the confidence of the coaching staff.
“You don’t want to play quarterback thinking the first mistake you make you’re going to be yanked, and I’ve never been one to do that,” said Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. “If you’re the starter you should be the best player at the position and right now he is the starter because he is the best player at that position.”
Duke opens up on the road on Sept. 3 at Charlotte. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.