MATTHEWS – At Butler, Clifton Duck was a standout from the beginning.
The 5-foot-10 defensive back first made a name for himself on the Bulldogs unbeaten and nationally ranked 2012 state championship team. That year, Duck capped his freshman season by starting in the championship game, where he recorded an interception during Butler’s 56-28 win over Jack Britt.
That team, which finished ranked third in the country in some publications, was loaded with defensive stars Peter Kalambayi and Channing Stribling, who are now on NFL rosters. Duck wasn’t considered one of the team’s top defenders even though he started alongside of them.
Each of the next three seasons when the Bulldogs went a combined 32-12 and won at least 10 games each season, Duck was named the team’s defensive MVP each year.
Still, the scholarship offers weren’t pouring in for Duck the way they were for other players in his conference and even on his own team.
During his senior season, Duck recorded five interceptions. On offense, he averaged 10.3 yards per carry, 15 yards per reception and 23.7 yards per punt return. That year, he scored five touchdowns – two receiving, one rushing, one on a punt return and one on a pick six interception return for a score.
Duck still wasn’t getting the big offers.
He eventually chose Appalachian State over Toledo, which were the only two teams to offer him a scholarship.
Duck didn’t get discouraged, though, and said high school players in his shoes should trust the process.
“I know there were a lot of times that it was frustrating for me and left me wondering why I wasn’t getting heavily recruited,” Duck said. “But if you put in the work and want it, it will pay off.”
Duck has certainly made the most of his opportunity.
As a freshman, Duck started all 13 games at cornerback. That season he led the Mountaineers with five interceptions, which tied for 13th most in the nation.
He was named to the all-Sun Belt Conference team and the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year.
Last season as a sophomore, Duck started all 13 games and led the Sun Belt Conference with six interceptions, which tied for fourth most in the nation. He also had 50 tackles and a sack.
He was named to the all-Sun Belt first team for the second year in a row and became just the eighth player in the FBS to record five or more interceptions during both his freshman and sophomore years since the 2000 season.
Since the 2016 season, Duck has led all FBS defensive backs in the country by allowing a passer rating, which was computed by Profootballfocus.com, of just 50.4 when targeted. By comparison, Alabama star Minkah Fitzpatrick, the 11th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins, ranked second with a 59.9 rating.
Even with all that’s happened, Duck has remained humble.
“I didn’t expect everything that has happened so far to happen to me, but I do train really hard and put in the work, so I’m not surprised by any of it,” he said.
Now, thanks to Street and Smith, Duck is a preseason second team all-American, joining many of the country’s top players and highly projected NFL draft picks.
“It was definitely a blessing, but it also means that I have to work even harder to go get on their first team,” he said. “I didn’t get first team, but to be one of the few players on that list was a big deal and a blessing.”
Duck is one of the true success stories. This year, he’d like to become a vocal leader for his teammates. With all eyes on him, he’s ready to have another great season.
“I’ve always led with my actions on the field, but I want to speak out a little more this year,” Duck said. “That’s not my biggest thing, but it’s something I’m trying to add to my role up here.”
Duck will certainly have the attention of every quarterback who lines up to play the Mountaineers, but he said that’s the only way he wants it.
“I don’t take any of this lightly,” he said. “I’m just ready to start the season and see what comes next.”