One of the Atlanta Falcons' newest linebackers, Justin Durant, signed on March 10 after having one of his best pro seasons cut short in 2014 while with the Dallas Cowboys. The nine-year veteran saw his season end in Week 8 when he suffered a bicep tear.
Durant was flourishing in the absence of Sean Lee with a team-leading 49 tackles and was named defensive captain. Coming off the injury, he is happy to get back to what he loves during OTAs.
"It felt great,'' he said after joining his new team on the field Tuesday. "I had limited reps and I had to go back in there and tell them I wanted more reps, but I understand I have to be patient."
Durant is no stranger to adversity and overcoming the odds. He graduated from Wilson High School in Florence, SC., in 2003 and enjoyed great success, but was only rated a two-star prospect by Rivals.com. Justin decided to follow in the footsteps of his oldest brother, Keshawn, and attend a MEAC school. When all was said and done, Durant ranked second in Hampton school history with 353 career tackles. In 2007, Justin was selected 48th overall in the second round by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Falcons are back in Flowery Branch for the first week of organized team activities, which began Tuesday morning.
Brothers Darian and Keshawn Durant enjoyed successful football careers on the opposite side of the ball as quarterbacks and have helped Justin along his journey through the pros. Darian was a standout quarterback at North Carolina and is a two-time Grey Cup champion in the Canadian Football League. Eldest brother Keshawn played under center at South Carolina State and is an author and speaker.
Learning the game of football from his brothers was essential in Justin's growth as a player, but there were also some pitfalls.
"Earlier it was tough because I had some big shoes to fill and the pressure got to me a little bit at one time, but after that it's been special," Durant said. "My brother Darian, I learned so much from him by just watching him and what he went through. His work ethic that he has, he's instilled a lot of that in myself."
Watching his older brothers lead teams from the other side of the ball gave him an idea of how to lead a defense.
"I always watched how they ran their teams," Justin said. "I kind of adapted that to my game. I may lead a different type of way but it's definitely a part of me."
With two older brothers both having success on offense, Durant knew he was ready to make his mark on the opposite side of the ball. He tried fullback during his freshman year of high school but fell in love with defense once he made the switch.
Now an experienced veteran, Durant sees how everything comes together from manning the middle of the defense and how integral communication is, saying, "We all have to be on the same page at all times and if one person isn't communicating the right way or doesn't hear a call, it could be a big play."
Even though Durant has established himself as an everyday player, the way of getting to this level and continuing to improve each year has been a slow and steady process.
"It's been the work that I've been putting in; just trying to get better every day,'' he said. "We have some great coaches teaching me different things and I'm learning a lot still."
The invaluable knowledge and support Justin has gained from his two older brothers have helped him forge a long playing career with a work ethic that won't quit. In his first year with the Falcons, Durant will look to add the same leadership and hard work he has brought everywhere he has played to a Dan Quinn-influenced defense.