April 11, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
The idea that talk is cheap is not one that’s easy to sell to Step Durham.
The junior corner from Jacksonville has used the power of conversation to get to the point in his career where he has his sights set on a starting corner position in the fall and has made major strides to that end during the spring.
Early on he listened, be it to pro athletes as a young kid then, once arriving at Tech, to those in front of him, especially to his predecessor at corner, D.J. White.
“I’ve listened to a lot of people talk,” he said following Saturday’s practice. “It’s not even just sit down. It’s being able for the coaches to talk to you, being able to pick up stuff from other people’s lives is a great experience and it’s humbling.”
He’s humble but recognizes he has people’s ears when he talks.
During spring break, he used his status as a D-I football player to be a role model for youngsters looking to one day follow in his shoes, whether it be aspiring to make a mark on the football field at Georgia Tech or making one in another through Georgia Tech.
“I worked with the YCC (Youth Crisis Center), said Durham modestly of the chat he did at the behest of his father, Stepheny, the YCC’s director of residential services. “I talked with a couple of kids. We had a sit-down. They asked me a couple of questions. It was a great experience just to give back. I know I’ve been in that situation before, listening to mentors of mine. So it was a great experience and I enjoyed the kids.
“I was like, ‘Man, I used to be in their position listening,’ he added. “It was a great experience being able to give back.”
During spring practice, Durham has been giving and giving back to kids in the secondary during spring practice.
Now an upperclassman with an opportunity to make an impression on younger players, by word and deed, Step, who played in eight games in each of his first two seasons on the Flats — he made his first start last season against Florida State — recording 11 tackles (all solo) and one pass breakup, is embracing a leadership role, on a secondary that must replace all four starters from last season.
Talking and thinking about the challenge ahead is exciting to him. He sees getting the young guys into the right frame of mind as a tougher challenge than getting them there physically.
“I think everybody has the talent at our level. It’s the mental aspect,” he said. “That’s what I’ve picked up on being here, just the mental, getting your mental prepared for the game.”
He referred to his days being around White as the best preparation to get there and to teach others to do so.
“I got to experience a great person all around — a very religious person, also a great athlete,” Durham said. “He taught me a lot from the mental aspect. At the corner a lot of it’s mental.”
Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t do much for Coach Paul Johnson’s mental health. He appeared frustrated with both sides of the ball pointing to the offense starting slowly then the defense getting caught on big plays late, even questioning the overall willingness to compete.
“It goes back and forth. It will go day-to-day sometimes,” Johnson said. “That part I don’t care about. You’re going to do that. I just care about competing and knowing what you’re supposed to do and not turning guys loose, those kinds of things. I’ll bet you in whatever plays we ran, maybe 100 with three groups, I’ll bet you there are 50 busts. And you’re playing against the same stuff on both sides of the ball. I’m talking about both sides of the ball. It’s ridiculous.”
Despite the ups and downs, Johnson saw bright spots in the secondary.
“Corey Griffin’s made some nice tackles on guys at safety but he’s also given up some big plays. He’s in a tough spot the way they’re playing,” he said. “Probably the guy who’s caught my eye, that has been most consistent is A.J. [Gray] at safety. He’s more confident and he’s playing really well.”
Durham believes there is a competitive spirit is present throughout the secondary.
“I see a lot of guys hungry,” he said. “Lance Austin is doing a great job, we’ve got (redshirt freshman) Meiko (Dotson) doing a great job. I think everybody’s here competing. That’s what we want in the room, everybody competing, getting better mentally and physically, everybody coming together.”
Durham is counting on the unit continuing to come together, growing together, and making plays together. It start with preparation.
“Being able to get our heads around to react to the ball, playing through the man, everything is watching film,” he said. “We’re going to dissect everything they do, how they catch the ball, how they look for the ball, how they like the ball thrown, what’s their chemistry. We have to be able to dissect that.”
Led by upperclassmen like himself and Austin and sophomore Gray — “On defense you can’t be taught some of the plays that he makes” — amongst others, the secondary in continuing to get after it and each other.
The latter constantly keeps intensity high.
“People are going to make plays and you don’t want to be that person not to make the play when you get your opportunity to make that play,” he said. “We’re all going to talk about our plays. If you make a play you have to have your confidence to be able to talk amongst each other.
“Being here and working my technique over and over again has made me a better corner,” he added. “But at the end of the day there’s still room for improvement.”