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Clifton Duck Keeps Beating the Odds

By Jim Johnson
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There probably weren’t too many people that saw Clifton Duck as a legitimate NFL Draft prospect when he signed with Appalachian State in 2016.

"I'm coming to show what I can do. I'm coming to earn a spot on that team, to earn a spot on that field and I'm coming for it all.”
~Clifton Duck

There probably weren’t too many people that saw Clifton Duck as a legitimate NFL Draft prospect when he signed with Appalachian State in 2016.

A two-star, according to the 247Sports composite, Duck wasn’t even one of the top 120 recruits in North Carolina, coming out of Butler High School.

“I didn't have that many looks,” Duck recalled. “Actually, I only had two offers -- one coming from Toledo, that dropped out -- so, really, only just one offer from App State. I knew I just had to give it my all and prove everything that I had and that some people missed out.”

Three first team All-Sun Belt selections earlier, suffice it to say, mission accomplished. Now, Duck, tied for fourth in conference history with 12 career interceptions, has set his sights on the NFL. And, improbable as it once seemed for him to even make the league, he’s doing so with a year of eligibility left, the first player in school history to leave early.

On his decision, Duck told the Southern Pigskin Radio Network, “It took a lot of planning, talking with my family, talking with my mentor and it just felt like the time was right. Nobody had ever done iit from App, so that kind of put a little pressure on me. I just believe sometimes you have to take risks and believe in yourself.”

Knocked his entire career for his size, or lack thereof, Duck’s evaluators have consistently made one key mistake: underestimating the measure of his heart. As the pre-draft process gets underway, the Matthews-native has yet another opportunity to do what he does best… prove people wrong.

“You try to touch up on everything,” he declared, in regards to his preparation. “You’re trying to polish yourself as much as possible, so when it comes time to show what you can do in front of the scouts you can give it your best, but nowadays it's just about your forty time. Making sure you get that forty time right it is definitely key.”

Based on his performance in the return game this season, speed won’t be much of an issue. This recent development, having been used only sparingly as a returner prior to the 2018 season, also shows a new level of versatility, granting suitors some roster flexibility, which has never been at a greater premium than it is now.

“I definitely want to help wherever I can, just do whatever I can to get on the field and show the coaches and the scouts that I belong in the NFL. If that's returning, I'll be glad to do that. I love to have the ball in my hands. You know, playing defense we don't get it like the offensive guys do when the ball is given right to them, so on return it gives me a chance to get the ball in my hands and show what I can do.”

As one of just six Sun Belt players to ever average 10+ yards per return on at least 30 attempts -- alongside the likes of Leodis McKelvin and T.Y. Hilton -- it’s fair to say he can do quite a lot when given the opportunity.

As far as what he’s hearing about his stock right now, Duck said, “from early in the third round to anywhere after that, but I try not to get caught up in all that. I just put in the work I need to put in and let the pieces fall into place.”

A defensive back through and through, Duck is simply controlling the things he can control. He can’t control whether or not a quarterback throws into his coverage, but he can darn sure make him pay if he does. He can’t control whether or not NFL execs see what everyone in Boone has known for three years, but he can put himself in the best position to make it happen.

And, with regards to the sort of player that one of those aforementioned decision makers will be getting if and when they do pull the trigger, Duck proclaimed, “They're getting a hungry player. Somebody who is fearless. A lot of people like to talk about size and all of that other stuff, they are getting a competitor day in and day out. I'm coming to show what I can do. I'm coming to earn a spot on that team, to earn a spot on that field and I'm coming for it all.”

Yet, even as he looks ahead to the next chapter in what promises to be a great career, Duck remains grateful for the opportunities that his time at App State afforded him.

“I don't even know how to really put it into words,” he glowed. “App being that one offer, it's a dream. As a kid you dream of going to college and playing football and with time winding down it looked like I wasn't going to get that chance, but App took that chance. Now I'm taking that next step to push through and take that chance and get to my dream. It's a blessing to say the least. That's the best way I can describe it -- a blessing. I am very thankful to App for giving me that opportunity, because they were the only ones willing to take a chance on a kid out of Charlotte.”

So often, the draft, and football in general, gets boiled down to measurables. Clifton Duck, however, personifies the fatal flaw in those sorts of superficial evaluations. The truly great players, more than anything, succeed not because of what is readily apparent, but because of the un-measurables, the intangibles.

His numbers speak for themselves, his resume surpassed by very few in recent memory. App State once had the foresight to bet on a kid out of Charlotte, and that wager paid off like a broken slot machine. Now, it’s merely a matter of time until someone else wins the Clifton Duck lottery.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP