The 2022 NFL Draft had 262 gamers chosen among the many league’s 32 groups over a three-day span in Las Vegas.
4-year Duke operating again Mataeo Durant was not a kind of picked, however he’ll get his NFL alternative after signing as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Durant’s $15,000 signing bonus is the most important undrafted rookie free agent contract for a operating again in Steelers historical past.
“Simply to get the chance can also be an awesome accomplishment as a result of not many individuals get the chance for this to be a actuality,” Durant stated.
After not getting drafted, Durant stated he known as his former Duke teammate Deon Jackson, who performed in 9 video games as an undrafted rookie within the 2021 common season for the Indianapolis Colts.
“Deon is one in every of my brothers,” Durant stated of Jackson. “He’s like an enormous brother to me. He’s one in every of my greatest associates, however he simply informed me … ‘When you get in there, simply kick down the door and simply take advantage of your alternative such as you’ve completed your entire profession.’”
Rising up in South Carolina
Durant grew up in Plum Department, South Carolina, which has a inhabitants of 87 folks.
“It felt prefer it was considerably the identical vibe as a result of Duke can also be a small, tight-knit neighborhood with regard to love the varsity,” Durant stated.
Durant recalled going to his first school soccer recreation as a child when the Auburn Tigers performed the Clemson Tigers on Sept. 17, 2011, at Memorial Stadium. It was the primary time he remembered desirous to pursue his dream of taking part in school soccer.
“After that, I simply knew that that is one thing I needed to do,” he stated.
Durant’s mother is a college trainer, and his dad builds electrical turbines used on skyscrapers.
“They all the time tried to instill in me that if you happen to’re going to do one thing, you may as properly be the perfect at it,” Durant stated of his dad and mom.
Durant stated he found he may be capable to pursue being a Division I soccer participant when he began competing with older gamers as a 14-year-old freshman at McCormick Excessive College in McCormick, South Carolina.
“I knew it was going to be a long and hard shot simply due to the small neighborhood I come from and the way small my faculty was, however my assist system was so nice, they usually saved on giving me the boldness,” Durant stated.
Together with Duke, Durant had 18 scholarship provides popping out of highschool.
“Training was a very powerful factor to [my parents],” Durant stated. “They are saying, ‘Use soccer to get your training. Not use your training to play soccer.’
“On this course of, I used to be simply hoping to make my household proud each step of the best way, and I’ve seen the enjoyment within the faces, and that makes me even happier. That permits me to thrive and obtain extra.”
Enjoying at Duke
Like most freshman gamers, Durant didn’t play a lot throughout his first school season. In 2018, Durant performed in 9 video games compiling 17 speeding makes an attempt for 43 yards.
“We all the time say NFL or bust, however after freshman yr, I wasn’t taking part in as a lot,” Durant stated. “I used to be on [special] groups. I’m actually completely happy I acquired that point to be on [special] groups as a result of it allowed me to showcase my skillset.”
As a sophomore, Durant’s workload elevated to 97 carries for 461 speeding yards and a speeding landing in 12 video games performed.
Durant’s breakout season got here in 2020 when he had 120 speeding makes an attempt for 817 yards and eight touchdowns. His breakout efficiency got here in an October 2020 win over Syracuse, by which he had 163 speeding yards and two touchdowns.
“The dream turned a actuality throughout my junior season, which was like, quote-on-quote, my breakout yr,” Durant stated.
Within the 2021 season, Durant ran for 1,241 yards, which set the Duke file for many speeding yards in a single season. Durant additionally had 9 complete touchdowns, incomes a first-team All-ACC choice.
Durant’s greatest efficiency got here when he ran for a career-high 255 speeding yards and three touchdowns within the 2021 season-opening recreation towards Charlotte.
Throughout his profession at Duke, Durant ran for two,562 yards and 18 touchdowns, changing into solely the ninth Blue Devils participant to eclipse 2,000 yards speeding throughout their profession. Durant additionally caught 55 passes for 488 yards and 4 touchdowns. He missed solely 4 video games in 4 seasons.
Durant thanked his teammates and coaches. Particularly, he talked about Jackson, fellow operating again Brittain Brown, operating backs coach Re’quan Boyette (2018-2020), operating backs coach Calvin Magee (2021) and now former Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. Durant credited them for serving to him stay affected person.
“I believe early in my profession, I used to be getting a bit of impatient, like, ‘Oh man, I wish to play. I wish to play,’” Durant stated. “The teaching workers did an awesome job not letting me burn out early, so not throwing me right into a scenario I wasn’t prepared for.”
Boyette performed from 2005-2009 for the Blue Devils, and served as Durant’s operating backs coach from 2018-2020. Within the 2021 season, Boyette turned the crew’s co-offensive coordinator and broad receivers coach.
“I wish to give him quite a lot of credit score for a way my profession superior,” Durant stated of Boyette. “Instructing me all of the methods to be a extremely good again, and tips on how to combine myself at Duke as properly.”
Cutcliffe is a legendary offensive thoughts, having coached Heath Shuler, Peyton Manning, Tee Martin and Erik Ainge whereas at Tennessee. He coached Eli Manning to the NFL as the previous head coach at Ole Miss. Cutcliffe additionally despatched three Duke quarterbacks – Sean Renfree, Thaddeus Lewis and Daniel Jones – to the league as the pinnacle coach of the Blue Devils.
Durant’s favourite reminiscence of Cutcliffe got here in July 2021 when the previous Duke coach interrupted security James Hopson II’s TikTok video. Cutcliffe was carrying a snake in his hand. The video went viral.
“In some way, he got here into the indoor [facility] on our picture shoot day with a snake in his hand, and he was simply waving it round,” Durant recalled. “It was like, ‘Man, I can not consider he got here in right here with a snake!’”
Durant credited Cutcliffe for serving to him develop and mature, even outdoors of soccer.
“Coach [Cutcliffe] held us accountable for our actions and I really feel like that’s one factor everybody ought to search for in a university coach, somebody who will maintain you accountable in your actions and have actually excessive expectations of you, ” Durant stated.
After a 3rd consecutive shedding season, Duke and Cutcliffe reached a mutual agreement for separation in November 2021.
In December 2021, Durant introduced on his Instagram web page that he would enter the 2022 NFL Draft.
Pursuing an NFL dream
The Steelers didn’t choose a operating again throughout this yr’s draft after taking Alabama’s Najee Harris with the twenty fourth total choose a yr in the past. Barring damage, Harris is anticipated to stay the starter after a Professional Bowl season in 2021.
Nonetheless, Durant will compete for a roster spot with Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland, Trey Edmunds and undrafted rookie free agent Jaylen Warren out of Oklahoma State.
Durant will probably must showcase his particular groups’ talents to make the Steelers’ 53-man roster, however the crew must discover a operating again to enhance to Harris.
Harris led the NFL with 381 touches in 2021, which was probably the most by a rookie since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2001. Harris didn’t miss a recreation final season and had just one fumble, which got here within the crew’s playoff loss to the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs.
The Steelers have additionally struggled to run the soccer the previous few seasons:
- 2021: 93.1 speeding yards per recreation (twenty ninth within the NFL)
- 2020: 84.4 speeding yards per recreation (thirty second within the NFL)
- 2019: 90.4 speeding yards per recreation (twenty ninth within the NFL)
- 2018: 90.3 speeding yards per recreation (thirty first within the NFL)
- 2017: 104.2 speeding yards per recreation (twentieth within the NFL)
Durant informed WRAL Sports activities that he did have alternatives with different NFL groups earlier than in the end signing with the Steelers, who’ve received six Tremendous Bowls as a franchise. It’s tied for many in league historical past.
“I’m completely happy to have the ability to go in and work laborious for a extremely nice group,” Durant stated.
Final season, it was Harris who had the Steelers’ longest rush of the season, a 37-yard landing towards the Cleveland Browns.
Durant’s explosiveness may play an element, having run a 4.38 within the 40-yard sprint, a 35-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot, 7-inch broad bounce at Duke’s Professional Day. His career-long run is a 64-yarder.
“[I’m] a hard-working participant who’s all the time accountable for his actions,” Durant stated. “[I’m] somebody who is rarely going to slight you with effort, and [I’m] somebody that’s all the time going to get after it.”
Durant graduated on Could 8 with a serious in psychology. He minored in sociology and cultural anthropology. He stated he’s excited to pursue his NFL dream.
“I can get a Duke diploma and go to the league,” Durant stated. “That’s like, when folks say, ‘the perfect of each worlds,’ that is undoubtedly the perfect of each worlds.”
The Steelers’ rookie minicamp is ready for Could 13-15. The crew’s obligatory minicamp is scheduled for June 7-9.