Decobie Durant: A Small-School Player With Big-School Talent at South Carolina State

    South Carolina State's Decobie Durant had the talent and "dog mentality" worthy of a selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. But his future wasn't always clear.

    South Carolina State cornerback Decobie Durant was one of four HBCU players selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. Infamously, no HBCU players were chosen in 2021. However, Durant was a small-school player with big-school talent. And his “dog mentality” led him to join Bulldog alums Darius Leonard and Javon Hargrave in the NFL.

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    Decobie Durant’s Football Passion Is a Shared One

    Hailing from Lamar, South Carolina, with a population of just over 1,000, Durant had a long, arduous road to the NFL Draft. But it’s a road that was paved before him. In a sit-down interview with yours truly, Durant broke down where his love for the game originated.

    “I was really following the footsteps of my older brothers. Well, they’re my cousins, really, but we’re brothers — Markee, Marquais, and Michael Hamlin.

    “I just wanted to be like them growing up. They were my role models. I played any sport you could name — baseball, basketball, football, and I started running track a little bit in high school.”

    Durant’s older cousins set a precedent for the future Bulldogs star. All three played safety in college, with Markee and Marquais (lined up at receiver his final year) helping SCSU to 2008 and 2009 MEAC Championship victories. Meanwhile, Michael flashed at Clemson, leading to the Dallas Cowboys selecting him in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL Draft. When it’s all said and done, Durant might just be the best of them.

    High School Versatility Led to College Stardom

    Durant was a multi-sport athlete at Lamar High School, starring for the football, baseball, basketball, and track teams. But did participating in those sports lead to further success on the gridiron?

    “I ran track to condition for football, and I felt the baseball instincts were there for tracking the ball on the football field,” Durant explained. “I played on the outfield and a little bit of shortstop — I was a centerfielder. You know, they usually call the centerfielder the ‘general’ out there. I felt like all of [the sports] transitioned to my playing skills/type on the football field.”

    MORE: 2023 HBCU All-American College Football Team and Individual Honors

    Durant’s versatility was also evident in the positions he played. He began his career as a running back but played quarterback, receiver, safety, and corner in high school. The humble person that he is, Durant was quick to share praise with a former Lamar teammate.

    “I want to give him a shoutout because we played together throughout my high school career — Quan Brown. He was a great quarterback. He reminds me of a Lamar Jackson-type guy — he always distributed the ball to me.”

    Light Recruiting Trail Forced a Quick Stop at a Prep Academy

    Due to his low test scores, diminutive stature, and small hometown, Durant was overlooked heading into college. As a result, he was forced to take the prep academy route to continue his playing career.

    “Oh man, the recruiting experience was down for me,” Durant said. “I had zero offers coming out of high school. Undersized guy, you know, nobody wanted to really take a chance on me. I didn’t have to ACT scores to qualify coming in. So I took the prep route — I went to Palmetto Prep.

    “That season got cut short. And then I faced a little bit of adversity. I was back home for fall 2016. And I was just working at FedEx, and I knew the coaches, obviously, because my cousins played at South Carolina State as well.

    “So I kept in contact with Coach [Gerald] Harrison and Coach [Buddy] Pugh, and they told me to enroll. And they gave me a preferred walk-on. So, I sat out the whole 2017 season, and then in spring 2018, I was able to join the team.

    “And from that point on, I told them that they wouldn’t regret giving me this opportunity. … I took advantage of the opportunity. I carried that chip on my shoulder man, and I felt like my career at South Carolina State was a great one.”

    A Year Spent Training for an Opportunity

    Spending a year away from something you have a passion for can be a grueling experience. Moreover, this is often where players can get in trouble. Without the full-time job that is football, can you make smart decisions off the field? Durant proved that in 2017, explaining what kept him focused despite being away from the sport.

    “Understanding and knowing that it’s a process, you know, don’t rush nothing. God put me in this process for a reason. Put me in that situation for a reason. It was just a time when I had to really lock in, focus on my schoolwork, focus on training by myself. I worked out in a little weight room that was underneath the [school] gym. So I was just in there with whatever [free] time that I had.”

    While at South Carolina State, Durant and his teammates came up with the motto: “The dog has to be in you, not on you.” But what does it mean?

    “It basically means no matter what jersey you got on, no matter the opponent you’re going against, if the dog is in you, the dog is in you. Just because you go to a Power Five, Clemson, Ohio State, you come play me, you’re going to know that the dog is in me. No matter what your jersey says, it doesn’t put a scare in my heart.”

    Putting the Time Into the Tape

    While Durant owned the physical tools to dominate his competition, they wouldn’t mean anything if he didn’t know how to use them. Thus, breaking down film of himself as well as his opposition was key.

    “I pretty much watch film Monday through Thursday,” Durant described. “I try not to overwatch, so on Friday, I’m relaxing, preparing for the game. Get my mind locked in. I played boundary corner. I’m pretty much by myself out there the majority of the time.

    “We face different schemes or formations, but I pay attention to the quarterback stances. For a couple of teams, when their quarterback would stagger it was always a pass. Little things like that I used to find, and I watched the tackles on the end on a line of scrimmage. Watch how receivers run off the ball when it’s a route vs. when it is a run.”

    Breaking down tape is key to a cornerback’s understanding of an opposing offense and the little giveaways their players may have. Durant was already proficient in this, evidenced by his 13 career INTs and over 30 pass breakups.

    From Walk-On to Defensive Player of the Year

    Durant may have walked on to South Carolina State, but you wouldn’t have known by his play and confidence. He thrived for the Bulldogs as a primarily outside corner, earning the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2021. While awards are nice, team success means more to Durant.

    “The accolades don’t really mean anything to me because as long as we are winning and my team is doing what we need to do, the accolades will fall wherever they fall. Whether I won it or not, I just kept my head down, made plays, trusted my teammates, they trusted me. All my accolades fell where they needed to be.”

    Combine Experience and CB1 Mentality

    Durant lit the 2022 NFL Combine on fire with a 4.38 40-yard dash, turning the heads of many who had never heard of the South Carolina State defender. He also shined during position drills, showcasing the hip fluidity and ball skills that are fundamental parts of his game.

    “I went into the Combine with the mentality that I was the best cornerback,” Durant said. “I just had a mentality like, ‘I know these guys aren’t better than me. They just went to a bigger school. They just got their name recognition.'”

    MORE: 2024 College Football Realignment

    Further highlighting his immense self-confidence, when scouts asked Durant how he would feel if he had to enter a game and line up across Julio Jones, he answered, “I’m not going to back down. I feel like I can lock down anyone, anybody.” And the SCSU CB wasn’t just saying that — he truly believed it.

    Opening Doors for Future HBCU NFL Draft Prospects

    HBCU football came under the spotlight thanks to the likes of NFL Hall of Famers Deion Sanders (Jackson State) and Eddie George (Tennessee State), who took over head coaching duties at programs. But the players deserve the most recognition and can make the biggest difference — Durant wanted to do just that.

    “I feel like, you know, Darius Leonard, Javon Hargrave. All those guys before me. Joe Thomas, Antonio Hamilton, Alex Brown, Alex Taylor. All the guys that were in the NFL before me — they pretty much paved the way. And now that I’m actually getting this chance to go through the process that they went through, I feel like I’m opening not only doors for me, but for the guys back at South Carolina State and other HBCUs as well.

    “It means a lot, getting the opportunity to showcase my skill at the East-West Shrine Bowl, at the NFL Combine. You know, just getting that spotlight, carrying the weight from the other guys in the NFL that went to HBCUs. Because just last year, no HBCU player was drafted.

    “Me, Markquese Bell, Joshua Williams, all the other guys that went to HBCUs — I feel like this year we are changing it. It’s going to open up a lot of doors for the guys that are coming out in the next few years.”

    A Small-Town Player With Big-Time Dreams

    Durant earned his undergraduate degree in physical activity management and was in the process of obtaining his Master’s in rehabilitation counseling/care. After football, he plans on opening his own training facility where he can help prospects prepare their minds and bodies for the dream of playing in the NFL.

    A dream Durant was told he wouldn’t reach. He reflected on his journey and what it means to his family.

    “This journey has been a true blessing. Everything I prayed for, man. God opened up so many doors. He answered a lot of my prayers. You know, I said, I want to go to the NFL Combine. I said I’m going to be Defensive Player of the Year. And God has blessed me with it. And just seeing how my family reacted to my performance, all my accolades, and the things I’m accomplishing in life. They know that I’m living out my dream of being able to pursue the NFL.”

    And like his cousins did for him, Durant wanted to blaze a trail for his younger sister to learn from. “I want her to have the mentality that no matter what critics say, whether you’re too small, you’re not fast enough, strong enough. None of that matters. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

    Durant’s story, mindset, and talent were worth banking on, and the Los Angeles Rams selected him in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. His NFL career is still young, but he has already made an impact. And if Durant’s collegiate career taught us anything, it’s that he’s only just beginning.

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