As a walk-on Adrian Duncan knew he’d have to prove himself.
Unlike many walk-ons Duncan was not redshirted his freshman year. In fact Duncan was efficient in four games totaling 156 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries, but playing behind Oklahoma State transfer Herschel Sims and sharing snaps with fellow freshman at the time, DeAndre Brown, his opportunities were limited in 2013.
“Not too many walk-ons get to say that they got to play their true freshman year,” Duncan said. “And it was just very honoring that they called me to be able to go in there and play running back and actually just help my team out as a freshman.”
After solidifying his role as a sustainable back-up as a freshman, Duncan entered 2014 season locked in at the third-string running back position behind Sims and Brown. Through the first two games of the season Duncan did not register a carry, as ACU fell to FBS-opponent Georgia State 38-37 and FCS-powerhouse Northern Arizona 27-21. But in the Wildcat’s third game against Troy, after Sims and Brown had each sustained injuries, Duncan’s number was called.
Late in the fourth quarter he got three chances and on his third carry, Duncan found the end zone for the first time in his career.
“It was late in the game. Playing a big Div. 1 school. We were right there in there and I got to score the winning touchdown,” Duncan said. “I had some great blocking up front, some great blocking from my fullbacks and tight ends, so that was a really awesome moment. Everybody was just in that moment with me. The locker room afterward was just crazy, it was just a really exciting moment for me.”
And with Sims and Brown still nursing injuries, it was Duncan who got his first career start against Incarnate Word the following week. In that game he carried 20 times for 54 yards and helped ACU to a 21-0 win.
Although Duncan would carry the ball just five more times that season, scoring another touchdown against Ave Maria three weeks later, he had proved to many what he already knew, he was reliable. And head coach Ken Collums said Duncan knows and plays his role well.
“He’s ready to go at any point,” Collums said. “AD plays well every time he goes into the game which tells you something about his character, something about his grit, his focus everyday because he knows he’s not going to be the starter, but yet when it’s his time he goes in and plays well. And you love guys like that, you want guys like that all over your team.”
Redshirt sophomore Riley Mayfield is not in his second year blocking for Duncan, and he says having guys like Duncan and now true freshman Tracy James be able to fill in for Brown has helped the passing game excel.
“They’re both excellent runners and they’re hard nosed kids so they’ll hit the hole they’re not afraid to get tackled,” Mayfield said. “When you have a good running game it sets up the passing game and you can do play action off of it.”
But as often as he has excelled in the backup role, with injuries hindering Brown as of late, Duncan has seen his workload significantly increase. In fact in the Wildcats’ last game against Northern Colorado, the offense racked up 239 yards on the ground, 101 of which came from Duncan.
“We really just had that mentality that we are better than what we played, so we need to step it up,” Duncan said. “And the offensive line had the same aspect, wide receivers, everything just played into that so that really all contributed to our successful running game.”
Now with Brown still working through an injury and after eclipsing the 100-yard mark for the first-time in his career, Duncan looks primed to be the starter when ACU opens up Southland Conference play against Houston Baptist.
“There are times where we have non-scholarship guys that don’t make it, but he did and he did because there is more to Adrian Duncan,” Collums said. “God’s given him a talent, and you can’t do it with no talent. Every time we’ve called on him for the last three years, he’s stepped up and he’s done a fine job.”
However, as consistent as Duncan has been on the field, he said his parents have been the real consistency off the field. Even when Duncan was still trying to make a name for himself as a walk-on, it was his parents who supported him at every game along the way.
“Even my freshman year when I was just playing just at the end of games, they were still there. And even when I didn’t play they still traveled,” Duncan said. “They traveled all the way to Troy even though they didn’t know if I was going to play or not.”
Duncan said since the beginning his parents have been there when he gets down on himself encouraging him to go back out there and keep performing.
“They’ve always been that way. I know that no matter what I do they’re going to have my back and no matter what troubles I’m going through they’re there supporting me and that’s just really a boost of confidence.”
Now with just nine games left as a Wildcat, Duncan looks to take advantage of the glimpses of what could be promising season for ACU despite the 0-2 start. But at the end of the season when he reflects on his career, Duncan can rest assured the impact he’s had on those around him has gone deeper than football.
“It takes a lot more than just wanting to play the game to be able to do that. It takes character, it takes grit and it takes just consistency that some young men don’t have and in fact probably most young men don’t have,” Collums said. “He’s got a lot of stuff going for him and when he’s through playing football at ACU he’s gonna go and do well in society, he’s going to be a great husband and father, there’s a whole lot to Adrian Duncan.”