Duvernay’s quiet leadership, competitive spirit on display in final return to Dallas

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Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

It is Oct. 8, 2016. Receiver Devin Duvernay is standing in an end zone painted burnt orange with 92,000 fans filling the Cotton Bowl with sound. 

Then a freshman, Duvernay had just scored his first career touchdown on a 63-yard bomb from quarterback Shane Buechele, and he hadn’t the slightest clue of what was supposed to happen next.

“It was kind of a surreal moment,” Duvernay said. “I scored, and I didn’t even know what to do or what happened.”

Duvernay appeared to take in the scene for just a split second, and as if remembering what he’s all about, turned around to celebrate with his teammates. As he returns to the Cotton Bowl for the final time in his Texas career, his confident humility and voracious competitive spirit can be traced back to the place where he first made a name for himself.

Just 25 miles northeast of Fair Park lies Sachse, Texas, where Duvernay grew up with his twin brother, Donovan, now a defensive back for the Longhorns. From a young age, the Duvernay twins grew up competitive by nature. The two battled in video games, basketball, (where Devin claims he won most of the games), school and in whatever else they could challenge each other at.

From the age of 4 when he first hit the football field, Duvernay could not stand to lose. Losses in peewee football would send him home crying. The fire that drove the 5-year-old to tears continues to burn to this day.

Senior wide receiver Collin Johnson said that after his team beat Duvernay’s in a friendly game of trash can basketball early in the season as a part of Family Friday — a weekly tradition the team participates in — Duvernay didn’t say a word  to him for the rest of the day.

“He’s a competitor, he’s a fighter, he just cares about football and his teammates,” Johnson said. “Honestly, that is the most competitive guy I’ve ever been around in my life.”

Duvernay’s almost business-like demeanor has guided him throughout his playing career. After his freshman year at Sachse High School, he was asked to change positions to receiver. He ended up as the No. 5 receiver in the 2016 recruiting class and committed to the Longhorns after flipping from Baylor.

Yet his start at Texas wasn’t easy. Unsurprisingly, Duvernay didn’t take well to playing for agglosing team. He stuck through a coaching change and a limited role in his first two years, growing into a bigger role as an outside receiver in his junior year.

Heading into his senior year in Austin, he was slated to start on the outside. A day before fall camp started, wide receivers coach Drew Mehringer called him in and asked if he could slide over to the slot.

Duvernay’s answer was simple.

“I said, ‘I’m all in.’”

What some may see as a setback or a slight by the coaching staff, Duvernay has taken in stride. Heading into the Longhorns’ matchup with West Virginia, Duvernay led the country with 9.8 receptions per game. 

While the routes and assignments have changed from the position he played in the past, so has Duvernay. But his approach hasn’t changed. He’s still the same competitor with the same spirit that drives him.

“He’s taken it as a challenge,” junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. “Understanding that he wants to contribute as much as he can his senior year. That’s the competitive nature about him.”

Duvernay said he always knew once he got his shot, wherever it may be, he would take advantage. However, don’t mistake his self-assuredness with arrogance. 

His confidence is quiet, almost unassuming. He doesn’t try to call attention to himself, but now-known as the surest hands on the team, his peers have taken notice.

“I haven’t even seen him drop a ball in practice,” sophomore safety Caden Sterns said. “The dude is very disciplined. He’s in and out of his routes, he’s fast, he’s got all the tools, he’s strong, so when you tackle him, you’ve got to bring some type of punch to it.”

Now four years removed from that first score against Oklahoma, Duvernay has gone through vast changes. He’s no longer catching vertical routes from Buechele, but instead is hauling in option routes and slants from Ehlinger. He’s added about 15 pounds and over 100 catches since that day. He says he’s now a smarter football player and has a better understanding of the game than ever before.

The same Duvernay that refuses to back down from challenges and changes, that said he hates to lose more than he enjoys winning, that is trying to win every game — trash can basketball or otherwise — will do his best to add on to a legacy that began in the end zone of the Cotton Bowl three years ago. This time, with years of experience under his belt, he’ll know exactly what to do when he gets there.