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'Watching our dreams come true': Former Duke football standouts prepare for Pro Day

Defensive end Chris Rumph II is one of seven former Blue Devils participating in Monday's Pro Day.
Defensive end Chris Rumph II is one of seven former Blue Devils participating in Monday's Pro Day.

Saturday’s Spring Showcase is all about the future talent of the Blue Devil program. Come Monday’s Pro Day, it will be all about the talent that the program has built.

Duke football is set to host its annual Pro Day Monday starting at 1:30 p.m., as a group of former Blue Devils including standout edge rushers Victor Dimukeje and Chris Rumph II will showcase their talents at Pascal Field House in preparation for the NFL Draft. With the form of this year’s NFL Combine severely altered due to COVID-19, Pro Day will take on an added importance for draft prospects everywhere, this group included.

“I just feel like I have to show up on Pro Day,” Dimukeje said in a Zoom with the media Thursday. “You know, let everything handle itself. Just keep working, and I’m just trying to become the best player I can be.”

Following the conclusion of the Blue Devils’ 2020 season in December, Dimukeje, Rumph, tight end Noah Gray, running back Deon Jackson, cornerback Mark Gilbert, safety Michael Carter II and offensive tackle Devery Hamilton all turned their attention toward preparing for the NFL Draft and securing an opportunity to compete at the professional level. The majority of the group traded Durham for various winter training facilities, with Dimukeje, Jackson and Carter even working out together at the Bommarito Performance Center in Davie, Fla.

Dimukeje and Rumph are the clear top prospects for Duke as the draft nears. While the two played markedly different styles in college, scouts have suggested that both could also succeed as outside linebackers in the NFL. Dimukeje, for one, has kept this possibility in mind amid his offseason work at Bommarito.

“Going into the next level, the competition is going to be way better. So one thing I really need to work on is just keep using my hands, as a defensive lineman and outside linebacker you always got to use your hands,” Dimukeje said. “Guys are more athletic at the next level, so that’s one of the biggest things. But here, I learned how to pash rush, I learned how to stop the run. I think the transition will be good for me, to the next level, because I feel like I have a good grasp of what I do well, and what I have to do at the next level.” 

Dimukeje’s counterpart Rumph also had a productive offseason, as he spent the winter months training with EXOS in Pensacola, Fla., with an emphasis on building up muscle. The second-team All-ACC selection draws plenty of intrigue as a quick, versatile player who would be well-suited to a role in the first and second levels. Once a projected first-round choice, Rumph now looks as if he will remain on the board into the second or third day of the draft. But the question is only when he will hear his name called, not if.

Beyond this duo, Gray also boasts potential to be a late-round selection as Duke’s all-time leader in career receptions by a tight end. After his impressive four-year run as a Blue Devil concluded in December, Gray received the opportunity to compete at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., turning in one of the highlights of the event with a wild one-handed catch. While not as likely to be selected as Dimukeje or Rumph, his stock remains high and he continues to work on every aspect of his game.

“There’s a lot of small details, especially at the next level with the talent that they have at DB, safety and even linebacker, that I need to work on,” Gray said, specifically mentioning blocking as an area of improvement. “And I figured that out kind of throughout that process the last few months. So, pretty much every part of my game is going to be kind of a work in progress for me. But you know, I love it.”

Gilbert is also an intriguing prospect. The former All-ACC cornerback returned to the field in the fall after missing two years due to injury before undergoing surgery once again this past September. He eventually opted out of the season in October to focus on his health and prepare for the NFL Draft. 

With the exception of Hamilton, the group has honed in on special teams skills, noting the importance of the area as a big first step to making an NFL roster across the defensive backfield and skill positions. Hamilton, an offensive lineman and grad transfer from Stanford, is aware that he has to make himself an appealing prospect without special teams as an option. As such, he has focused on positional versatility across the line, noting his newfound comfortability at center and increased durability after an injury-ridden tenure with the Cardinal.

Even with all the pressure of preparing for the next level, the group is also focusing on just enjoying the process, one they’ve been dreaming about their entire lives.

“It’s a surreal feeling just because it was something that we’ve talked about, just being able to prepare for this process, since we were freshmen, really,” Jackson said. “Like watching our dreams come true.”

The NFL Draft will begin April 29 in Cleveland.

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