It’s been a rocky road for Providence High graduate Braxton Deaver.
Deaver has battled injuries since signing with Duke, twice having to sit out an entire season because of knee problems and even having to get NCAA approval for an additional year of eligibility.
As Deaver enters his final season with the Blue Devils, he’s ready to make the most of it.
“To come back healthy and strong, this has all been a very personal goal of mine,” said Deaver, who is completing graduate school at Duke. “I hope all the hard work I’ve put in shows up on the field. I fully expect it to.”
Deaver recently was named to the preseason watch list for the John Mackey Award, given annually to the nation’s top NCAA Division I tight end.
He is one of 33 players nationwide and seven from the ACC on the list, meaning there will be a spotlight of sorts on the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Deaver this season.
While he appreciates the attention, he said, he doesn’t believe there will be added pressure.
“Those things are just incentives to keep working as hard as I’ve worked,” Deaver said. “There’s definitely nothing greater than the expectations I have for myself, because I truly want to be great.”
Those aspirations began in high school, where Deaver was a three-year starter. He caught 176 career passes for 2,554 yards and 35 touchdowns and was a first-team All-State pick by both The Associated Press and NCPreps.com.
Deaver wound up choosing Duke over five other college programs – East Carolina, Marshall, Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest – and redshirted his freshman year. But in 2011, Deaver played in all 12 of the Blue Devils’ games, including a first career start against Miami.
Deaver was slated to become Duke’s starting tight end in the 2012 season, but three operations – on the anterior cruciate ligament and fractured kneecap in his left knee, and for a fractured left thumb – forced him to sit out.
Deaver returned in 2013 and earned third-team All-ACC honors after starting all 14 games, catching 46 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns, including a career-best six catches for 116 yards against Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
The injury bug caught up with Deaver again last August, however; he injured his right knee during summer workouts and underwent ACL surgery just weeks before the 2014 season started.
“It’s some of the biggest mental trials you can go through,” Deaver said of the two missed seasons. “We like to say around here that when things happen like that, it’s only God preparing you for something else that can happen in your life. You’re going to have to draw from going through a trial like this, it’s going to give you strength when something else happens down the road in life.”
The second knee operation could have marked the end of Deaver’s college career, but he was granted a sixth year of eligibility in November.
“I knew I was a pretty good candidate to receive a sixth year, so I wasn’t sweating it that much… but you never know,” Deaver said. “I was very, very elated when the decision came back.
“To be fortunate to get a sixth year, and to have a chance to leave my legacy here not here, and to be able to leave here with people saying ‘Braxton was a great champion, and a really hard worker,’ that’s all I’ve ever wanted. To be able to come back and work as hard as I have with my teammates, and be a leader on this team, that’s been the most important thing for me. It’s meant the world to me.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Bill? Email him at email@example.com.