At 5-foot-9 and 159 pounds, former Charlotte 49ers receiver Austin Duke never could shake the “little man” nickname given to him by teammate and roommate Larry Ogunjobi.
“He used to hate that,” said Ogunjobi, a 6-foot-2, 301-pound defensive lineman. “I’d be like, ‘All right, little man.’ He’d give me that look and he’d get his boxing gloves, run in my room and start trying to box.”
Three months removed from graduating, Duke’s size remains contested, currently by scouts ahead of April’s NFL draft. His stature can’t change. But as he prepared for Charlotte’s pro day, Duke focused on increasing his weight and strength.
With scouts from at least 11 NFL teams present Wednesday morning at the Judy W. Rose Football Center, Duke’s hard work yielded impressive results. He weighed 170 pounds and completed 15 reps on the 225-pound bench press.
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On a morning when temperatures hovered in the low 30s, Duke also ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds.
“Coming from 150, I’d never been 170,” said Duke following the pro day, which featured 10 other former 49ers and four additional participants. “So being able to put that on and go through that process, I think it just made it more of a reality for me to say, ‘I can do anything I put my mind to.’”
Coming from 150, I’d never been 170. So being able to put that on and go through that process, I think it just made it more of a reality for me to say, ‘I can do anything I put my mind to.’
Charlotte 49ers diminutive wide receiver Austin Duke
That’s the same mindset Duke, Charlotte’s all-time leading receiver and a graduate of Independence High, has tried maintaining since graduating in December.
Unlike Ogunjobi, who’ll likely become the first player in school history selected in the NFL draft, Duke didn’t receive an invite to the NFL scouting combine or the Senior Bowl. However, Duke said he gained valuable experience participating in the Tropical Bowl in Florida and the College Gridiron Showcase and Symposium in Texas.
Duke has also spent time training at the Applied Science and Performance Institute in Tampa, Fla., where he said he’s learned more about the importance of professionalism.
“Just me being down in Tampa, I was able to meet guys like Jameis Winston, Derek Jeter, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins …” Duke said. “Just being able to be around those guys and really breath the air they’re breathing and understand, ‘Hey, this is really possible.’ ”
For a program just four years removed from its inaugural season, the turnout for Charlotte’s pro day Wednesday was a far cry from past years.
A majority of the scouts in attendance came to see Ogunjobi. But the attention he drew also gave Duke and the rest of his former teammates a chance to share the stage.
“He’s put the work in day in and day out, just like myself,” said Duke about Ogunjobi. “He was able to be that forerunner for us. …That helped us out, as well. Just the scouts that he brought in and the work that he’s put in, just to take full advantage of that.”
Ogunjobi deflected similar praise toward Duke afterward. Although his size might differ from Duke’s, Ogunjobi said Duke’s work ethic matched his and helped him reach where he’s at now.
“If you show me a man’s friend, I know what type of man he is,” Ogunjobi said. “I would introduce Austin as my friend, my brother, any day of the week. He would be a good representation of me, and it would be vice versa. That would be the only person I’d have to show you.”
Duke’s lack of size might ultimately keep him from being selected in the draft. However, his speed could help him land with a team as an undrafted free agent as a slot receiver, his primary position, or as a kick/punt returner.
“For me, first I’m a receiver, a slot receiver,” Duke said. “That’s what I’ve been doing since I started playing ball. But obviously at the next level, to make that team I’ll do anything they ask me to.”
Pat James: @patjames24