This article appears in the October/November 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Paul Duncan would love for the defensive linemen who knuckle down across from him to know he's the same guy who'll spend a fourth season playing doubles for the East Paulding tennis team this spring.
What's more, the massive 6-foot-7, 285-pound senior offensive lineman doesn't even mind them knowing his three sisters used to beat him up all the time. And that once a truce was declared, he'd actually play dress-up with them.
You sure you want your opponents to know that, Paul?
"It's true, we used to fight all the time when I was little," says Duncan, 17, of sisters Deana, 20, Mary-Margaret, 18, and Bonnie, 15, who is now a freshman three-sport athlete at East Paulding. "They used to gang up on me and — I'm not going to lie to you — they used to whoop up on me pretty good. Course, having three sisters meant you had to play dress-up, too. They've still got a couple blackmail pictures."
Well, then, what did you wear?
"I'm not going down that road, man," he says.
At least Duncan, who's rated the nation's No. 10 offensive lineman and No. 69 overall recruit in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com, draws the line somewhere.
But he'd love for defenders to think his childhood secrets or his fondness for tennis are relevant on the football field. He'd love that because at least opponents will have a smile on their face before he blasts them off the line.
On the field, Duncan is a bone-crunching, immovable object. He's capable not only of neutralizing his own man, but also of erasing two would-be tacklers by steering them away from the flow of the play as it develops behind him. And with frightening frequency, an East Paulding running play will result in Duncan bulldozing a defender onto his backside.
It's no wonder his top five list of college programs is composed of powerhouses Notre Dame, LSU, UCLA and Texas, as well as Duke.
"He does two things exceptionally well," says East Paulding second-year head coach Tim Glanton, 38, a former West Rome High and West Georgia College wide receiver. "He base blocks real well. A lot of teams are lining head up on him now, and that's really playing into his hands. He can take two guys a lot of times. He also pass blocks very well. He's got good feet and long arms and uses his upper body very well. Guys just can't separate from him. And for a big kid, he's very mobile."
The stats back that up. Anchored by Duncan, the Raiders' offensive line bulldozed the team's rushing attack to more than 2,200 yards last year despite East Paulding's 1-9 finish.
Fact is, entering this fall, East Paulding hadn't seen much success during Duncan's three previous years on varsity, going 0-10 his sophomore season and 1-9 his freshman campaign. Which is a big reason Duncan vowed to give his total attention to the program this fall. So much so that he's putting off any movement toward a college decision until after the season.
In at least two ways, this is a season of transformation for Duncan. There's the completion of Duncan's own transformation from tight end (where he started multiple games as a freshman and sophomore) to offensive tackle. And then there's the Raiders' transformation from perennial cellar dweller to respectability (East Paulding was 4-2 as of Oct. 1) thanks, in large part, to Duncan's dedication.
"The thing that sticks out in my mind is that when all this recruiting stuff started — the letters and the invitations to this camp and that camp — he stayed grounded," says Glanton. "He's a quiet-type kid even though he's had a lot of opportunities to talk. He stayed humble through all the recognition and stayed focused on what he wanted to do. He told all the college coaches who were pressing him, ‘My team hasn't won a lot, and I want to focus on that.'"
So instead of turning his back on his trench mates and indulging in all the ink, Duncan saw his circumstances as a challenge.
"With all this recognition, it was like there was no way the guy I was blocking should be anywhere near the play," says Duncan, who will turn 18 next June 18. "On every play, I try to prove that to myself. I guess that kind of pressure helps me. But the mess-ups are frustrating. I can play a great game, but the one guy that gets past me I remember because everybody sees that."
Of course, everybody also sees him haul his hulking frame around the tennis court while toting a racket and sporting sneakers. He is, after all, hard to miss on the hardcourt. So, how exactly does a fella who weighs almost 300 pounds serve and volley his way around the tennis court?
"Oh, my feet aren't so bad," says Duncan, who is also the starting center for the East Paulding basketball team. "It's doubles, so a lot of my points come off intimidation at the net. Either that or they try to pop it over me and they don't realize how high I can reach. I get a lot of smashes. I do a lot of poaching across the net."
A few months from now, Duncan will be done with tennis for good. But that transformation won't come anywhere close to the most significant one he'll undergo next: from high school stud to college freshman. And he knows it.
"I can't come out there thinking I'm going to do the same thing I'm doing to high school kids right now," he says. "I'll just keep working hard and play my role and be ready when I get my opportunity. That's when I'll have to come out and seize it."
Just when those defensive linemen let a smile cross their face.