Sports

Appalachian State’s Clifton Duck’s NFL pitch: Bulked up but still has the pluck

Appalachian State cornerback Clifton Duck had 12 interceptions in three seasons with the Mountaineers before making himself available for the 2019 NFL draft.
Appalachian State cornerback Clifton Duck had 12 interceptions in three seasons with the Mountaineers before making himself available for the 2019 NFL draft. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Appalachian State cornerback Clifton Duck had a simple, frank answer Thursday for why he skipped his senior college season to enter the NFL draft:

He had nothing left to show the pros about his potential at the next level.

Duck, who played at Butler High in Matthews, had 11 interceptions his first two seasons with the Mountaineers, then just one last season. That wasn’t because his skills receded, but because his reputation grew.

“A lot of the teams in the Sun Belt had started avoiding me,” Duck said of quarterbacks not throwing to his side of the field. “I felt like I basically hit the production I was going to hit.

“Last year was a big struggle for me target-wise (as far as) being able to add more things to my resume.”

Duck’s explanation makes sense: He’s not the ideal height for an NFL cornerback at 5-foot-10, but he doesn’t figure to have some growth spurt over the next year. The past three years he gained roughly 25 pounds — 11 in the past six months — to bulk up to 180 entering this draft. There would be a risk of injury, or just not playing well, had he stayed in Boone for his final season of college eligibility.

So he entered the draft and participated in Appalachian State’s pro day workouts Thursday for a group of NFL scouts and coaches. He was invited to participate in a Carolina Panthers group workout Friday for college players from the area.

Between his accomplishments at cornerback — he started all 39 games he was eligible for — and his special-teams resume — he returned punts and kicks all three seasons — Duck seems a solid bet to be on an NFL roster in the fall.

That, in itself, is a significant departure from the path he projected in high school.

Duck’s pluck

Duck got next to no recruiting notice at Butler. At 15, the idea he’d one day compete to make an NFL roster would have seemed preposterous.

“When you’re training with people and they’re getting all these offers, talking about these schools they’re going to go to, and it’s happening so slow for you,” it’s deflating, Duck recalled.

“I always think back to a conversation I had with my mother, (asking), ‘When is the first one going to come?’”

That scholarship offer came from then-Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield, who saw a pluck about Duck that other college coaches overlooked. Satterfield tells a story about seeing Duck at a summer camp in Charlotte where Duck constantly jumped into line on both offense and defense to get extra reps.

That persistence left such a strong impression with Satterfield that he looked past a lack of height and bulk at the time to offer Duck a scholarship. The payoff was remarkable; Duck started from the first game of his freshman season and has excelled ever since.

“Everything I do is about heart,” Duck said. “At that camp, it was ‘I need it. I’ve got to have it.’ And I feel that is still me.”

Different, yet same

It was clear visually Thursday that Duck has bulked up as much as he could, without losing the quickness and flexibility he needs.

Yet he’s still that undersized overachiever on the inside, and hopes that registered with NFL scouts Thursday.

“I’m still that guy asking for more reps,” Duck said.

“To me, it’s just how you approach the game: You can never do too much.”

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Rick Bonnell is a sportswriter/columnist for the Charlotte Observer. He has been in Charlotte since 1988, when the NBA arrived, and has covered the Hornets continuously. A former president of the Pro Basketball Writers Association, Bonnell also writes occasionally on the NFL and college sports.
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