But he got a chance to earn one at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Ala., while continuing to play the game that he loves.
Duncan won that scholarship with his play as a freshman in 2009, became an integral part of the Gamecock defensive back rotation the next two years and now is looking forward to his senior year with the team.
The former Purple Hurricane played in all 11 of the Gamecocks’ games the past season, was a starter in three, and was a major contributor to their success during a season in which they won their third Ohio Valley Conference title with a 6-2 conference record, claiming their school’s 18th conference championship.
Duncan also picked the biggest stage — when the school won a share of OVC Championship with a win over Tennessee State — to record his first interception at the collegiate level.
It wasn’t all that hard to accomplish, depending on how you look at it.
Duncan said after his Cane affiliation ended, he spoke with JSU coaches about his prospects and was something of a “preferred walk-on,” which meant he was given the opportunity to play and earn a scholarship.
The former Cane — who now stands 5 feet 11 inches and weighs around 180 — said he was only about 5 feet 8 inches and weighed around 155 at Cartersville and some felt he was too small to play at the next level. “I wanted to play badly, and I just kept on working on my game.”
The ex-Cane said he learned all he could with the Gamecocks and got playing time as a freshman, contributing a lot on special teams.
Duncan’s highlight that first year was when he was called on to play corner after the starter — T.J. Heath, who now plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars — was injured.
The opposing team decided to test the freshman defender immediately.
“They saw a freshman come in who hadn’t been in the game and decided to take a shot,” he recalled. “It was the fourth quarter and we were up by a touchdown. I was running with their receiver [Orlando Bloom] and he took off down the sidelines. In the end zone, I saw him start to jump and I reacted and just knocked the pass down.”
He got more than a defensive gem for his hard work, too. “After that season I was on full scholarship.”
Duncan played a lot his sophomore and junior seasons. In the just-completed season, he played every game. “I played with two seniors, and we all got a lot of playing time.”
His highlight was against Tennessee State in Nashville when he got his first interception for Jacksonville.
The Gamecocks went on to win the game, 38-16, and earn a share of the OVC championship.
It was an exciting year for a lot of reasons, including the brand of ball played. Jacksonville State, which finished the year with a 7-4 record, came from behind in all seven of those games they won.
Duncan said he has learned a lot about playing his position through the school. “When I went to JSU, I had sort of a chip on my shoulder. People said I was too little and they said this and that, but I just tried to prove them wrong.”
He said he also has learned a lot about the game through his coaches and his study of upperclassmen on the gridiron.
“I’ve seen the highs and lows working my way up,” he said. “We’ve had some good seniors in front of me. I’ve learned a lot watching them play, seeing how they handled situations on the field.”
He’s also glad to be a Gamecock. “It’s a real good campus and a great football atmosphere. They have good fans, good coaches and I like it a lot.”