Beyond Sports: El Paso punter sets sights on U of I and beyond
Declan Duley of El Paso is grateful his parents will get to see him play football at the University of Illinois next year.
That’s a bigger deal than you might think. The El Paso-Gridley High School senior’s mother lost her eyesight last year.
In this edition of Beyond Sports, Duley described the challenges his mother faced as he switched schools and went on to become the highest-ranked punter in Illinois.
Duley said his mother Becky suffered a detached retina in her right eye last October while on a flight to see Declan’s brother in Florida. Soon, she lost eyesight in both eyes.
“When I came back from a college visit in November, I came home and the first thing she said was ‘I can’t see you,’“ Duley said. “That was pretty hard to deal with.”
Medical bills forced Declan to make a tough decision. He transferred to El Paso-Gridley last winter after two and a half years at University High School in Normal. Duley said the move also kept him closer to home.
Duley feels gratitude now that his mother has regained sight in one eye.
“We take the blessings out of all of this. It was hard on the family and it was hard on her to be blind, but even just to have one eye with vision has been a miracle,” Duley said.
Duley said he dedicates any of his success to her and her father Brian, for all they have done to accommodate his athletic pursuits.
“I can’t even imagine what she was thinking at first when I told her that I wanted to quit swim (team) or quit soccer (to focus on football). Of course, she was going to support me in my decisions no matter what, whether or not she thought at the time it was the right thing to do,” he said.
The move appears to have been the right one. Duley is the highest-rated high school punter in Illinois and one of the best in the country. Duley received interest from a number of college football powers, including Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Oklahoma. Illinois and Troy offered scholarships.
Duley is also graduating high school one semester early to get a start on his college career and has dreams of playing professionally someday.
“That’s the dream. I guess I haven’t hit the goal yet. The goal is to play in college to play in Division I. Now the dream is to play in the NFL,” Duley said.
Duley was late to the game of football. He said he only took up the sport in high school after his coach saw him kick a soccer ball and suggested he try out for the team.
“He said, ‘Hey why don’t you come out here and try kicking?’ I did it and made an extra point. He said ‘You’re the kicker now.’ I said ‘sweet.’”
Duley said he feels part of a close-knit team at EPG, despite being new to the school this year and playing a position that can be isolating. Duley handles all kicking chores for the Titans, which can lead to high-pressure moments on the field. Duley said his prior experience as a nationally-ranked swimmer at age 10 helped train him to stay calm when the game is on the line.
“I was swimming in front of thousands of people, that there has helped me tremendously,” Duley said, adding he has also been helped by Mike McCabe with the One on One Kicking training academy. Duley has taken on a larger course load at El Paso-Gridley this fall so he can graduate in December and start next spring at U of I, where he hopes to get adjusted to college life sooner and get a head start on competing for a starting job on the football team.
“I have a loaded schedule right now. It’s a little bit stressful, but at the same time I power through it and play to keep my grades up,” he said.