Athletic ability and academic intelligence don’t always go hand-in-hand. Jeyvon Ducker knows that. He puts it a bit more bluntly.
“The stereotype is that football players are dumb.”
The very mention of “football” might bring images of hulking brutes battering each other into mush, repeatedly smashing their heads together until they’re no longer high functioning humans.
But that’s not Ducker. The Bellevue West junior running back is slight, but lithe. He’s agile, quick on his feet, and quick with his mind. Don’t get it wrong, he’d doesn’t mind running over defenders when the situation necessitates it. But there’s something about hearing the crowd ooh and aah when he lays down a slick juke. He’s done it plenty in two years of full-time varsity football.
Ducker’s sophomore campaign featured 2,193 all-purpose yards and 32 touchdowns. From the backfield, he averaged 8.3 yards per rush and 12.2 yards per reception. It was a breakout season.
“We anticipated that he was going to be pretty good,” said Bellevue West head coach Mike Huffman. “I’d be lying if I said we expected that.”
But expectations aren’t much to Ducker. He grew up with an older brother, Trystn, who currently plays football at the University of South Dakota. Both of Ducker’s parents were also USD athletes. His father ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash. There was never a question of whether he’d be an athlete. It was ingrained.
The academic expectations might be more demanding than even the shadow of athletic prowess cast by his family.
“Do not get a C,” Ducker said. “That’s basically like an F to them.” And he doesn’t. His GPA is above 3.8. It’s part of the reason he’s gained interest from some high-profile schools.
Ducker visited Notre Dame this season. He described the atmosphere as crazy and loaded with tradition. There’s another academic juggernaut vying for his signature as well. “I’ve been getting probably the most mail from Stanford,” Ducker said. “That’s probably been my dream school, because I want to be an anesthesiologist when I get older.”
Neither Notre Dame nor Stanford have given an official offer just yet, but Ducker has options. Purdue, South Dakota, and South Dakota State have all come in with early offers. Iowa and Iowa State are in regular contact also. With new pieces of mail coming in daily, and phone calls to back them up, it won’t be long until another big-time school is added to the list.
“It’s nice to not have to worry about him in the classroom,” Huffman said. “They love the fact that his grades are so good.”
Ducker has parlayed his classroom intelligence into football smarts, too. Huffman praises Ducker’s ability to understand the nuances of the game and retain information. “Man, you tell that kid once, it’s fixed,” Huffman said.
And Huffman knows he’s lucky to have Ducker at all. If not for a twist of fate, Ducker might be wearing blue instead of purple. Ducker’s brother, Trystn, spent three years at Creighton Prep. Ducker was set to follow, even attending a Catholic elementary school for three years to acclimatize himself to that environment.
But, following the 2014 season, Prep head coach Chris Nizzi resigned. Trystn, unsure about the direction of the team with a new coaching staff, transferred to Bellevue West. The younger Ducker wasn’t about to let his brother go alone. He transferred to Lewis & Clark and readied himself to become a Thunderbird.
Once he was on campus, the coaches already knew who he was. But Ducker said he wasn’t treated differently. He had to prove himself, which he did quickly. Ducker suited up with the varsity squad in the third game of the season.
Sometimes, freshmen get the opportunity and burst onto the scene with a shocking performance. Ducker’s varsity debut, however, was anything but glamorous.
“I remember I was super nervous. I don’t know why I was nervous because you don’t get in until the very end,” Ducker said. “I actually forgot my mouthpiece for the first half. I was hoping we wouldn’t get in. I’d have to ask to borrow someone’s.”
Huffman, who didn’t know that story, sums up Ducker like this: “He’s a goof. He’s silly.”
Silly and goofy though he may be, Ducker’s performance on the field and in the classroom has been nothing short of stellar. He’s dodging defenders, acing tests, and smashing stereotypes.
“Kids are like, oh, you’re a football player. And I’m like, yeah, and I’m smarter than you, too.”
Watch Bellevue West vs. Omaha North streaming live this Friday at 7pm.