Two years ago, Joe Don Duncan sat out with a nagging knee injury and was forced to watch what would’ve been his senior college football season from the sideline; now, he’s an NFL tight end for the Denver Broncos.
Before playing at Dixie State University, Duncan had a short stint with Sacramento State University, where he played on the defensive line. He then transferred to El Camino, where he played for two years but didn’t often see the ball thrown his way in his new tight end position.
Upon leaving ECC, Duncan had several Division I offers. He ultimately chose to join the Storm and play alongside his younger brother, Jake, who was a DSU linebacker at the time.
“I thought it was the perfect opportunity,” Duncan said. “Coach Brumfield offered me a scholarship, so I had my school paid for, and I could play with my brother.”
In 2011, his first year at DSU, Duncan reeled in 64 receptions for 949 yards, breaking school records in both categories, and was named to the All-American team. In the following offseason, Duncan re-injured his knee, had surgery and subsequently sat out the 2012 season. He admitted that getting injured going into his senior season was tough, but he thinks sitting out a year actually worked to his advantage.
“It helped me tremendously,” Duncan said. “I saw the game differently. I was actually able to understand what our offense was really trying to do and I was able to see the game from a different perspective.”
Using a medical redshirt, he was able to play his senior season in 2013. In that season, Duncan broke his own single-season school records with 1,045 yards on 71 catches. In just two full seasons at DSU, Duncan ranks first all-time in career receiving touchdowns with 22 and second in both catches and receiving yards.
Once again, Duncan was named a consensus First-Team All-American. He was awarded DSU Male Athlete of the Year and was invited to play in the NCAA Senior Bowl. His gaudy numbers started to garner attention from NFL scouts. His game was often compared to the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Jason Witten because of his versatility, which would later prove to be very important. One team, in particular, was interested. Gary Kubiak and Brian Pariani of the Baltimore Ravens met with Duncan and were intrigued by his potential.
Unfortunately, injuries set him back once more. Duncan underwent foot surgery after being injured in 2014 and was unable to participate in most of the drills in the NFL Combine. He was, however, able to bench press successfully. He tallied 35 reps of the combine’s set weight of 225 pounds, the most repetitions of any tight end in NFL Combine history.
Come draft day, Duncan was a projected late-round pick, but NFL teams seemed to be skeptical of his medical history and he was not drafted.
Following the draft, Duncan returned to St. George to help coach the DSU receivers. He continued to workout with strength and conditioning coach Bryce Patterson.
“He’s basically been training non-stop for two years,” Patterson said. “While he was here coaching, he worked with me on keeping in football shape, and coach [Judd] Thompson has been throwing with him a lot and making sure he doesn’t lose a step.”
Last month, his tireless training paid off when he got a call from the Denver Broncos’ front office. The Broncos had recently hired Kubiak as their head coach and Pariani would be joining him in the Mile High City. Still curious about Duncan’s potential, they invited him to Colorado for a workout.
“They just put me through the usual drills,” Duncan said. “I think a big reason they were interested in me is because of the possibility of me playing in the backfield.”
They seemed to like what they saw from Duncan as they signed him to a possible three-year deal the following week.
“It’s been great here,” Duncan said. “The atmosphere, the people, the city, everything has been perfect so far.”
The Broncos staff has said it plans on using a fullback this year, and the signing makes Duncan the only one currently on the roster, posing his biggest opportunity of making the 53-man roster in August.
“There’s no guarantee I make the team, but I’ll do anything they need me to do in order to get on the field,” Duncan said. “I’ll play tight end or full-back or special teams. I’m just going to work my ass off and do whatever it takes.”
Follow Duncan on Twitter @DieselNine and keep up with him as he continues his journey to the big leagues in Denver.
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