No longer having to deal with the recruiting process — barring a change of heart — Shabazz will begin football practice Monday with a clear head, and as a Duke commitment.
The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder will now concentrate on helping the Mustangs pick up where they left off after winning three straight games to end the 2012 season with a 4-6 record.
Southern Mississippi, Georgia Southern, Vanderbilt and Eastern Carolina also showed interest in Shabazz before he ultimately picked the Blue Devils and a future in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I feel really strongly about it,” he said of his decision. “I’m glad I can do it before the season started. Just talking to my family and talking to my coaches, I thought (Duke) was a good decision.”
Shabazz said he chose Duke for its academic reputation, and he was impressed with defensive ends coach Rick Petri. Shabazz also said he would be comfortable playing in Duke’s defensive system, which includes four down linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs. The system will allow Shabazz to line up in a two-point stance, which he prefers, instead of putting his hand on the ground.
“I like the way they run things at practices and stuff,” he said.
Shabazz’s future position coach, Petri, is a 30-year veteran in the college ranks. In his time at South Carolina, he helped groom the development of future NFL All-Pro John Abraham.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for a great young man,” Kennesaw Mountain coach Andy Scott said. “Taariq is a great Christian kid and he plays extremely hard. The biggest thing he will provide for any football team is that he’s a leader by example. He’s constantly running and moving and chasing the ball with relentless pursuit.”
Shabazz’s primary strength on the end is his speed and ability to get into the backfield. He’s just as comfortable stopping the run as he is pressuring the quarterback, coming away with 59 tackles and 4½ sacks last season.
Although Shabazz can bench 375 pounds, power-clean 360 and squat more than 500, it’s likely Duke’s coaching staff will expect him to be stronger a year from now, so he’s putting a lot of emphasis in weight-training.
“He’s a phenomenon in the weight room,” Scott said. “He’s also explosive and can run 4.6 in the (40-yard dash). He plays the game so hard, He’s a sideline-to-sideline type kid.”