Looking back, Duke football's Conner Vernon happy to have chosen Duke
Conner Vernon will be the first to tell you that he is not verbose. But nearly every time the wide receiver speaks to reporters, he tucks an important point into his terse answers.
“I’m really happy to be here,” he has said on multiple occasions throughout the season.
A senior from Miami, Vernon may be the most statistically accomplished player in Duke football history. With 273 receptions and 3,630 yards, Vernon broke the ACC’s all-time records for both receptions and receiving yards during his senior season. The three-time All-ACC honoree also set the conference mark with 47 consecutive games with a catch, logging a reception in every game he played in his career with the Blue Devils.
But Vernon was not highly recruited out of high school. Vernon said he only received scholarship offers from Duke, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and Troy and made the decision to come to Duke largely because he bought into head coach David Cutcliffe’s vision.
Setting a program record with 75 receptions in his senior season, Vernon finally watched Cutcliffe’s vision come to fruition when the Blue Devils gained bowl eligibility for the first time since the 1994 season.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be an overnight thing. It took four years for that vision to finally come through, and it’s only going up from here,” Vernon said. “The senior class has a chance not only to go to a bowl game for the first time since 1994, but they also have the chance to win a bowl game for the first time since 1960. That’s definitely something we’re looking forward to.”
After Duke squares off with Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl Dec. 27, Vernon will set his sights on the next phase of his football career—the NFL. Vernon is widely regarded to be a legitimate pro prospect, with a chance to be the first Duke player since 2004 to be selected in the NFL Draft.
Vernon will graduate from Duke at the conclusion of the Fall semester with a degree in English. He will then move to a warm-weather destination to work in preparation for the NFL Combine and Duke’s annual Pro Timing Day.
“It’s kind of one of those bittersweet things,” Vernon said. “I’m definitely excited to start the next phase of my life, but it will be sad to see it all go. The last four years have been great, and Duke has given me a lot. But I’m looking forward to what lies ahead and I’ll always be a Duke Blue Devil.”
The senior also mentioned that once his football career draws to a close, he wishes to remain tied to the world of sports.
“Hopefully football pays the bills for a while, but if not I would definitely want to stay in sports,” Vernon said. “That’s kind of all I know. I grew up with sports all around me, and I would definitely love to be in a front office somewhere.” Vernon has consistently been praised throughout his career for his work ethic, consistency and demeanor.
Cutcliffe lauded Vernon throughout the season for his leadership ability and never taking a play off during practice. But what may impress professional teams the most is his calm and business-like manner.
His demeanor may have been one of the reasons why Vernon flew under the radar in high school. And Duke is fortunate that its star receiver turned out to be a diamond in the rough—had other major college football programs noticed Vernon’s potential in high school, the Blue Devils would have had significant competition in securing his commitment.
But Vernon stands by his decision to this day—he is really happy to be here.
“If I had to do it all over again I would absolutely come to Duke. There is no doubt in my mind,” Vernon said. “I definitely wouldn’t have had the career I did if I wasn’t at Duke, and I absolutely believe that. Duke gave me an opportunity that I don’t think other schools would have given me right from the beginning. I’m thankful for that.”