Dukes: "I was Real Close to Going to College"

Following a long-line of Tampa (FL) Hillsborough standouts such as No. 1 draft choices Dwight Gooden, Gary Sheffield, and Carl Everett, Elijah Dukes spurned a scholarship offer from NC State out of high school and inked with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He's progressing nicely following his first full-season in the minor leagues.

"I've done real good," Elijah Dukes told StateFans. "I just finished up at Charleston and the Devil Rays said I did real good my first year. I hit about .245 with 7 home runs and about 35 stolen bases. I made it up to A ball after skipping two levels. I hope to start out in AA ball next year."

Dukes, who was the nation's #12 linebacker according to TheInsiders.com out of high school, still misses what he considers his "first love," the game of football.

"Yes, I miss it all the time. I let [the Devil Rays] know that I miss it too. It's different... I like football because every second you're doing something on the field but baseball's just such a slow process at times."

Has he ever thought about giving up professional baseball and going to college to pursue a career in football?

"I think about it. I think I will be giving football another shot at some point because it's just in my heart. I love the game of football. What would happen is I'd just decide to not play baseball anymore and the Devil Rays could just sign me off."

Elijah stated that at this point, he's only been in contact with one college, but would like to hear from the school he originally signed with.

"Well, Maryland saw me when I was working out at (Tampa Bay) Jefferson (HS) and asked if I wanted to take a trip up there. They said they've seen me play, and anytime I want to take a visit I can. NC State hasn't been able to get up with me... I don't know if they have my number or not. I'm most definitely still interested in them though."

Dukes committed to the Wolfpack following a late January visit in 2001, choosing NC State over offers from Tennessee, Arizona State, and Alabama among others. There were a couple of factors which weighed heavily in his decision to run with the 'Pack.

"I liked the chemistry at NC State and Coach Amato gives all the young guys an equal chance and you can't beat that. At NC State every position is open and up for grabs. They don't play favorites and if you can play then you'll see the field. That's why they are so good because all the guys there get along. The players know they will play and it keeps everyone involved in the game. If I came in there as a freshman, I just felt like I'd be able to go in and compete right away... that was a big plus for me."

Elijah wanted it known that he was MUCH closer to going to college then most believed, and in fact he wanted to pursue a college career at NC State.

"I was real close to going to college. I wanted to go, but there were other reasons that pulled me to baseball. At times I wish I would have stayed with football because I miss it... I really do."

"It was good that the Devil Rays picked me because that's home. I think if it would have been another team then I'd have ended up going to college for sure. With Tampa Bay being home for me, that was a big factor in the end."

Stay tuned for more on ex-NC State signee and current Tampa Bay Devil Ray Elijah Dukes, as he's tonight's special guest in the StateFans.com Premium Chat!

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