Duncan doing all the laughing now
When Bryce Duncan first arrived on the Minnesota State, Mankato football team, his teammates found him a good source for ribbing.
Their jokes were good natured, and Duncan laughed, too. But their root was something the Rochester Century graduate wanted to quickly clean up. Especially for someone playing tight end.
In Duncan's first two seasons, the first one a redshirt year, the big guy was less than automatic catching passes.
"Bryce would get heckled once in a while for dropping balls," said Mavericks teammate and fellow 2011 Century graduate Kyle Riggott, a starting wide receiver. "The first time we had him on the 'hands' team (fielding on-side kicks), he kept dropping the ball. But he had the personality to handle it fine. He's a goofball, and the guys knew that."
Three years into Duncan's college football career, opponents sure don't regard him as a goofball, if they ever did.
A starting tight end, Duncan, a sophomore, is one of the most improved and important players on the Mavericks team, one stuffed with great ones, as the team's 10-0 record and No. 1 ranking in NCAA Division II suggest.
Opponents regard the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Duncan the same way that Mankato coach Aaron Keen regards him: As a handful.
"Last year, Duncan was so young and inexperienced at his position, that he went through a growing phase," Keen said, "but as we started playing better football in the playoffs, it had to do a lot with him and how he was playing. He was blocking and catching the ball so well at tight end. He just continued to get better."
One year later, he's even better. In fact, Duncan has become so proficient at his position that Keen now regards him as the best tight end in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. He ranks ranks third on his team in catches and receiving yards (14 receptions, 179 yards). His blocking is what Keen appreciates most.
"He does a fantastic job in the passing game, and he's a dominant blocker," Keen said. "He's very intelligent, very physical and has soft hands. And it's what he does after the catch that I like most. He finishes (them off)."
Duncan showed up in Mankato amid little fanfare. He wasn't even a scholarship player, walking on to the program. He weighed 30 pounds less than he does now, and had those questionable hands.
But he figured things would turn around for him fast.
"I figured it would work out if I kept working hard," said Duncan, an excellent football and basketball player at Century, and always regarded as extremely competitive. "I figured I'd eventually get a scholarship."
It didn't take long. He was handed one after his freshman year.
Now he couldn't be happier. He calls this Mavericks team a "family," and among his closest companions are two guys who played on his same standout Century team, Riggot and running back Chad Zastrow.
All are having a solid impact on a Mavericks team that has pounded opponents all season, with only one close game, a 21-17 victory against No. 5-ranked Minnesota Duluth the third week of the season, in Duluth.
Duncan likes being No. 1 in the country. And that's not just for the notoriety, but the competition.
"When you're the favorite, you know teams are always giving you their best shot," he said. "They're trying to knock you off."