Last spring, Durden tried the hurdles for the first time, and within two months broke the school record in the 300-meter hurdles and placed fifth at the Class 2A state track and field meet.
This fall, after spending all of last football season on the junior varsity, the 6-foot-2, 170-pound senior has emerged as Tumwater’s top linebacker with a team-leading 133 tackles and four forced fumbles.
“I was saving it all up for my senior year,” Durden said and he laughed as he and the Thunderbirds prepared for Saturday’s 2A state title game against Lynden in the Tacoma Dome.
In fact, Durden, at outside linebacker, and senior middle linebacker Joe Brueske are first-time varsity players and the team’s top two tacklers: Durden with a team-high 133 tackles (70 solo, 63 assists) and Brueske right behind him at 110 (62 solo, 48 assists).
Defensive coordinator Pat Alexander said he thinks this is the first time the team has had two JV players from the season before become the team’s top tacklers the following season on varsity.
Durden was an understudy behind Riley Prentice, an all-state linebacker, in 2011. He saw spot time on varsity in five games, but only after games were well in hand. Despite his lack of experience and opposing offensive linemen having a 30- to 40-pound weight advantage, Durden’s transition to varsity standout has been a quick one.
“I figured out how to step up and not let my size affect me,” Durden said. “I have the height, but don’t have the weight on me.”
Durden has mainly been a defensive player, beginning with his days in the Thurston County Youth Football League as a sixth-grader.
Before he entered Tumwater’s program he was a cornerback and safety – until his sophomore season, when he was asked to move to linebacker.
His nervousness about a new position subsided as his experience grew, and this season he earned first-team all-2A Evergreen Conference honors. In addition to team highs in tackles and forced fumbles, he has racked up four sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception.
“It’s so much easier now,” Durden said. “At linebacker, you’re always getting in there. I feel like we have the most opportunities to get big hits.”
Alexander calls Durden relentless.
“He doesn’t look like a football player, but he plays so hard,” Alexander said. “When we watch him on film, he comes out of nowhere. He’s a great tackler and has excellent speed.”
That track speed – running the 300 hurdles in a school-record 39.41 seconds last May – has helped immensely with his football conditioning because his motor never stops.
“I don’t get tired as easily,” Durden said. “I can get from one side of the field to the other, too.”Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 email@example.com theolympian.com/southsoundsports @megwochnick