With the success that versatile, pass-catching tight ends are finding in the NFL, the hybrid tight end/H-back is a hot commodity on the recruiting trail and Thomas Duarte (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) is one of the players reaping the rewards.
Players at prestigious programs such as Mater Dei seldom lack for exposure, but Duarte thrust himself fully into the spotlight this summer with standout performances at several camps. In June, the 6-foot-3, 223-pound receiver attended camps at USC and Washington and drew rave reviews at both settings.
"I went into [the USC] camp knowing that I had to do my best and then more," Duarte said. "The environment around USC, once I stopped onto the field--I felt it and it brought out the best in me. I know I have to take advantage of every opportunity. That camp went really good. I've kept in touch with coach [Kennedy] Polamalu a lot. He wants to keep track of me and see how everything goes. Hopefully they'll offer."
Duarte already holds an offer from Washington, but said his experience with the Huskies was similar.
"The environment up there is compete all the time," Duarte said. "I really liked the environment there."
Duarte is approaching double-digit offers, but a recent one from a national power caught his attention.
"The Notre Dame offer came in about two weeks ago," he said. "I was real excited about that. I've always grown up watching their program and dreaming of playing there."
Duarte lumped UCLA, USC and Washington into the list of schools he would be excited to attend, although he added that he is only beginning to approach the recruiting process. He would like to use all five of his official visits and said a commitment announcement will likely wait until at least after the season, perhaps close to signing day.
Duarte caught 20 passes for 299 yards and a touchdown last season, but seemed to come into his own during this off-season and is playing with a high level of confidence now.
"I've talked to a bunch of offensive coordinators at schools and they say I'm just a nightmare for defenses," Duarte said. "I'm too big for the outside guys and too fast for the inside guys. I've talked to all these colleges about playing that new style of hybrid tight end, where I can line up inside against a linebacker or outside against a cornerback."
Duarte said he is still in the process of collecting offers and exploring his options, which he said will intensify as a summer progresses. He does have one item at the top of his checklist, however, which will help guide him to a decision.
"The school that I go to has to feel like a second home," he said. "I have to feel comfortable there, not only with the players but with the coaches as well. I want to feel comfortable in the city as well, so I can succeed and take advantage of my surroundings to become a better athlete and student."