February 05, 2021
Yasir Durant sat stunned on the family sofa for three days last April in his parent’s Mt. Airy home and watched 255 names go by. The 6-foot-6, 331-pound 2016 Imhotep Charter School graduate thought he would be one of them, thought he had to be one of them.
The first thought in his mind was that it was happening again. He was being overlooked—again—this time by the NFL. At Imhotep, Durant was part of a star-studded team that had players go to major schools. Not many paid serious attention to him, and the schools that did balked on Durant, who was always a solid student that had good grades, but didn’t get the qualifying SAT score until late in the recruiting process.
On Sunday, Durant will take a look at himself in the mirror and know he’s arrived—as an undrafted free agent playing in Super Bowl LV. That's because on Sunday, he'll be suiting up for the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chief against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium, in Tampa, Florida.
Durant, the Chiefs’ backup guard, had to go the junior college route for a year coming out of Imhotep, before landing at academically demanding Missouri, where he started 33 of his final 34 games and was among the top left tackles in the SEC, college football’s premier conference, with a 3.1 GPA.
At Missouri, Durant surrendered 29 pressures and 4 sacks, according to Pro Football Focus, and was considered reliable, since he only missed one game due to injury.
Still, he went undrafted. Durant did not have a very good combine. But the eye test should have been good enough to make the NFL notice during the draft.
“I remember those three days, waiting and waiting, and the third day I had a good feeling I would be drafted, watching offensive tackles coming off the board,” Durant recalled. “I thought it was going to happen, and by the time it started to get towards the last 10, 15 picks, I left to go to my bedroom by myself, because I was pissed off.”
Then Durant got a call. It happened to be from Andy Hill, the Chiefs’ assistant special teams coach, who also just happened to be with the Chiefs this season after spending 24 years at Mizzou. Hill knew Durant. He knew what Durant could do.
“After the Chiefs spoke to my agent, and I accepted what they were offering, [former Eagles coach and Chiefs coach Andy] Reid called me,” Durant said. “Once we began putting pads on in training camp, I started to get the feeling I could play in this league. I went up against TK (Tanoh Kpassagnon, from Wissahickon and Villanova) and some of the other D-linemen and that’s a real talented group.
“That convinced me I belonged.”
Durant went from sitting on his living room sofa last April wondering if he had a future in football, to playing with the best team in the NFL.
Life kept throwing “can’t” and “won’t” at Durant, and he kept fighting back.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” said Albie Crosby, Neumann-Goretti’s head coach who coached Durant when he was at Imhotep. “Yaya was always overlooked. He was a qualifier, and San Diego State wanted him, but they didn’t want to wait for the [SAT] score. It did work out for him.
“His personality and support system wouldn’t allow him to fail. Even when he was with me, he wasn’t sought after, and even after a good college career, playing in the SEC for Missouri, he was still overlooked. Now he’s with the Chiefs—playing in the Super Bowl.
“That’s Yasir. He was always a ‘yes coach, no coach’ kid with a great work ethic. I thought whatever NFL team was going to get Yaya, they were going to get a 10-, 12-year pro because of his drive. Yaya always has had great focus. I’ll be rooting for Yasir to do well on Sunday."
The Chiefs are on the brink of doing something that’s only been done eight times in the Super Bowl era—and that’s win consecutive Super Bowls, most recently accomplished by the 2003-04 New England Patriots.
Ironically the last time it was done was by the very quarterback Durant’s team will be facing on Sunday, Tom Brady, when the Patriots beat Reid’s Eagles team in Super Bowl XXXIX.
This Chiefs’ team has a special quality about them—something Durant sensed when he first walked through the doors of the Chiefs’ practice facility.
“That’s because everyone cares for each other and everyone has the mindset that they want to win and they want to dominate,” Durant said. “This is a special team, and that starts with the owner all the way down to the janitor. Everyone is genuine and they all care about one another.
“Everyone is one—and fans see that on Sunday. But being behind closed doors, I see that every day. Everyone feeds off one another; you want to work to succeed for the guy next to you. A lot of that starts with Patrick Mahomes. Everyone wants to play for Pat.
“Just by being around him and watching him up close at games, he’s fearless. When you have someone like that, willing to do anything to win, the quarterback who is right there with you through everything, you want to play for that guy.
“Pat is not a rah-rah guy, but he’s a special guy. If he throws a bad ball or a pick, or if he makes a mistake, he’ll come and let us know, ‘That’s my bad,’ stuff you don’t see from every quarterback. You have some quarterbacks who will go off to the side and be by themselves. That’s not Patrick.
“He owns it. You can’t do anything but respect that type of person and that type of leader.”
On Sunday morning, Durant will look at himself in the mirror of his hotel room and say to himself, “Enjoy the moment, and have fun.”
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Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has been writing for PhillyVoice since its inception in 2015 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.