Duke Making the Jump
Former college basketball player scored first NFL touchdown vs. Bills
By Ryan Thorburn, Camera Sports Writer
ENGLEWOOD — The “Power Layup” did not go over well late Saturday night in the visitors’ locker room at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
That was the name Denver Broncos tight end Wesley Duke gave his end zone celebration after the rookie appeared to unsuccessfully dunk the football over the goal post.
Needless to say, Duke will be rooting for Mercer University to execute better on Thursday night when he makes the drive up to Boulder to watch his alma mater play Colorado at the Coors Events Center.
“A lot of guys saw it and didn’t understand the power layup concept,” Duke said after the Broncos’ 28-17 victory over Buffalo. “It’s an everyday thing.”
Actually, Duke’s 1-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter was his first NFL reception. His previous live offensive action was six years ago during his senior season at Meadowcreek High School in Norcross, Ga.
And that snap was also a memorable one.
“I played one play in 1999 because I tore my ACL,” Duke said earlier this season. “But I got a 10-yard first down.
Duke was a four-year starter at Mercer on the basketball team. The small school in Macon, Ga., doesn’t have a football program, although there is an air rifle team on campus.
The talented 6-foot-5 kid with NBA jumping ability (Duke competed in the NCAA’s slam-dunk contest at the 2005 Final Four) and NFL strength (he already has a Shannon Sharpe-like build) became Mercer’s all-time leader in blocks (173) and eighth in program history for rebounds (687).
Duke averaged 9.8 points and 5.9 rebounds in 116 games (102 starts) during his college career while overcoming two more torn ACL’s.
“Same knee, left knee, three times,” Duke said. His last injury was in 2001. “I was scared after the third one coming back and playing basketball because you never know how well it’s going to hold up. It worked out. I took an extra year to rehab, so it’s real strong now. I feel good about it.”
The Broncos felt strong enough about the 24-year-old Duke to sign him as an undrafted free agent. Head coach Mike Shanahan hired tight ends coach Tim Brewster, who helped develop Antonio Gates from a collegiate basketball player into an NFL star in San Diego, during the offseason.
Since training camp began, Brewster has been bending Duke’s ear like a drill sergeant. The tough love paid off for the first time when Denver’s new No. 84 scored the first of what the franchise hopes is many touchdowns.
“He’s got a lot of things that could really make him a power in this league,” safety John Lynch said of Duke. “Most of all, he likes to work hard. He’s still learning the game, but he does have it.”
In 1990, the Broncos used a seventh-round draft choice on a tall, skinny wide receiver by the name of Sharpe. He eventually became the most prolific pass-catching tight end in NFL history.
Ironically, Mercer’s only men’s hoops victory of the season so far was against Sharpe’s alma mater, Savannah State. But Duke has a lot of touchdowns to catch and an end-zone celebration to perfect before any professional comparisons to the old No. 84 will be made.
The “Power Layup” didn’t fly.
“We’re just disappointed he didn’t get the dunk. He kind of went with the finger roll at the back of the goal-post,” Lynch said. “I think he went for the dunk.”
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