TAMPA — Roughly once a week, Bucs rookie tight end Payne Durham phones his high school coach in Georgia to thank him for getting his late-blooming football career off the ground.
But in reality, Reggie Stancil didn’t so much give Durham’s career a jump-start as he gave it a jump shot.
“It was all because of a 3-pointer at a pep rally,” Stancil said Friday afternoon.
Before Durham evolved into a three-year starter at Purdue and fifth-round draft pick, he was a year-round lacrosse player in the Atlanta suburb of Suwanee, Georgia. Though he dabbled in pee-wee football as a prepubescent, he had long since abandoned the sport upon arriving at Peachtree Ridge High.
But he splashed onto Stancil’s radar during a winter-sports pep rally his junior year. Stancil, who had only recently been hired as Peachtree Ridge head coach, became enamored upon watching Durham — now 6-foot-6 — compete in a slam-dunk contest.
“He’s a big kid, and I’m like, ‘How in the world is this kid not playing football?’” recalled Stancil, now head coach at Dacula (Georgia) High. “So I asked one of the coaches, ‘Hey, have you guys ever tried (to get him to come out)?’ He said, ‘Yeah, we used to try all the time, he just never came out.’”
That’s when Stancil approached Durham, making a wager that would alter the 16-year-old’s life.
“So I went up to him when it was all over and I said, ‘Hey, I want to make a deal with you: I’ve never shot a basketball in this gym. If I hit a 3-pointer, you’ve got to come try out for football in the spring,’” Stancil said. “And I said, ‘If I miss it, I’ll never ask you again about trying out for football.’
“I made the shot.”
That one was from the corner. Durham recalls him making a bunch more, in succession.
“He made like, eight in a row, and just kept scooting back and kept looking at me saying, ‘You’re going to play football now,’” Durham said Friday during the inaugural day of the Bucs’ weekend rookie minicamp. “So he was hiding something up his sleeve.”
Because Peachtree Ridge’s lacrosse team advanced deep into the state playoffs that year, Durham missed spring practice but arrived for summer workouts. Stancil said Durham’s potential was brandished on his second day with the team — during a seven-on-seven game.
“It was his first day actually running plays with us and everything, so we kind of kept it limited for him,” said Stancil, who played three sports in high school (including hoops) and became a career 5,000-yard passer at Jacksonville (Alabama) State.
“And he scored four touchdowns on a kid that had committed to Florida State. From that day on, he was like, ‘Coach, I love football.’”
Durham caught 22 passes for 330 yards as a Peachtree Ridge senior, earning all-county and all-region honors.
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A half-decade later, the trajectory of Stancil’s 3-pointer gets more surreal by the day. Durham, who has worn Rob Gronkowski’s number (87) his entire career, now wears it for the last team for which Gronk played.
“They gave me a small list of numbers to pick, and it was kind of a no-brainer for me,” said Durham, who caught 21 touchdown passes in 45 career games at Purdue. “But it’s an honor, the greatest tight end of all time, I’m wearing his jersey from two years ago. Definitely an honor, definitely a privilege, and I’m looking forward to kind of trying to fill those shoes slowly.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls
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