When Kris Durham sprints down the field on a pass route, his lanky build and lengthy stride are reminiscent of a condor taking flight.
Corey Perrine/Morris News Service Georgia’s Kris Durham hauls in a reception over Arkansas’ Rudell Crim in last Saturday’s 31-24 loss.
Morris News Service
But when you’re talking about Durham, looks can deceive.
He needs a few awkward moments to get going, but once he gets up to speed, he covers distance with surprising quickness.
Just one season removed from major shoulder surgery, Durham has helped fill the gap at the top of Georgia’s receiving depth chart. The redshirt senior is coming off a career-best game and has taken over as the clubhouse leader among the receivers.
“He doesn’t look it, but he’s a heckuva athlete,” said Georgia fullback Fred Munzenmaier, who has roomed with Durham for the last three years. “Picture this image in your head: We were at the gymnastics gym one night and a bunch of us were playing around. Kris is this big, tall, spindly-looking receiver that you wouldn’t think could jump straight up in the air, let alone do a back flip.
“But there he was, doing these back flips into the foam pit there in the gymnastics gym. It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, he’s all feet and arms doing all these back flips, just like the gymnasts.”
Georgia (1-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) plays at Mississippi State (1-2, 0-2) today at Wade Davis Stadium.
‘Feels good to be back’
Durham, a 6-foot-5, 211-pound redshirt senior, has been perhaps Georgia’s brightest light on offense this season. He leads the team with 13 catches for 260 yards and a touchdown, nearly twice as many catches as No. 2 receiver Tavarres King’s seven catches for 119 yards.
“It feels good to be back,” Durham said. “I feel like I’ve shaken off a lot of the rust and I’m getting back into the scheme of things. I enjoy it. I’ve learned to appreciate it a lot more than before. When I realized this is my last year, I realized how much it meant to me.”
Despite his ungainly frame, Durham isn’t clumsy. His fastest 40-yard dash time was a 4.47. Durham says his more legitimate time is in the “low-4.5s.”
Although his long legs might not take off as quickly from the line, they can eat up a lot of ground when he lengthens his stride. Durham also has the body control of a shorter player and his football speed might be better than his track speed.
“I’m probably faster with pads on,” Durham said. “I ran track and I’ve got good speed. My dad (Michael Durham) was a track coach and he was a decathlete here at Georgia. My uncle (Robbie Spector) played at Clemson, so I’ve got some people in the family who can run.”
Durham had made a slow climb up Georgia’s depth chart since joining the team out of Calhoun. He missed games as a junior in 2008 because of a sprained ankle and a broken hand.
He ended the season with shoulder surgery on a torn labrum that cut his 2009 campaign short. He is in his fifth season at Georgia and is the oldest receiver on the team.
“(Durham is) the kind of guy who can go in and do the dirty work and is going to go in and do the dirty work. He takes pride in it,” King said. “He’s done it since I’ve been here. It’s nothing new, but now he’s back and healthy and doing it.”
Durham entered this season with 19 catches for 251 yards and no touchdowns, so he has almost eclipsed his career numbers three games into his senior year.
During last season’s 8-5 campaign, Durham spent most of practice in rehabilitation and away from the team as the Bulldogs struggled to find their footing.
“I know it was tough on him, it would have been tough on me, too,” Munzenmaier said. “We tried to help him in any way we could, and he tried to help us, too. But he’s a pretty strong guy.
“He could have sat there and felt sorry for himself, but I think it’s pretty evident from the start he’s had this season that he was trying to get better however he could. You didn’t catch him sitting around. He was doing his rehab and once he was cleared, he was back out there working.”
Durham’s resurgence comes at a good time for the Bulldogs. Leading receiver A.J. Green has one more date left on his four-game suspension for selling a jersey to a person the NCAA describes as an agent. King was suspended for the season opener because of an offseason alcohol arrest.
“He’s been certainly a value to the offense and as an example for the young players,” Georgia receivers coach Tony Ball said. “He’s provided us with a playmaking ability and the things that we need out there. It’s been good for him because he’s had to step up and had an opportunity to make plays. It’s worked out well for him and for us as well.”
Durham comes off a career-high five catches for 101 yards against Arkansas last week, but at least in his mind, the 31-24 loss overshadows anything Durham did on the field.
“Right now it’s not going the way that I’d have hoped because we’re 0-2 (in the SEC),” Durham said. “But you can’t really focus on the negative. You’ve just got to keep working and keep getting better.”
Durham has taken a long road through his first four years at Georgia. He has caught passes from four different starting quarterbacks, not including practice time with other quarterbacks who either never played or played sparingly.
King calls Durham “Moses” because of Durham’s advanced age compared to his teammates.
“I have caught a pass from Joe Tereshinski, Matthew Stafford, Joe Cox and Aaron Murray,” Durham said. “I caught Matthew’s first-ever completion. I caught Aaron’s first touchdown. If you want to count practice, in the spring game, I’ve caught a touchdown from Matt (Stafford), Logan (Gray) and Aaron. So yeah, I’ve been around.”
Durham’s maturity and his eagerness to work in the classroom make him a natural leader.
With Georgia’s receiving corps in flux during the early stages of the season, Durham has been the rock for his youthful quarterback to lean on.
When the Bulldogs opened the season against Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 4, Murray was making his first start and Durham was playing his first game since surgery.
“I don’t think either of us could eat at all,” Murray said. “I looked at him, and he was just kind of staring at the plate. I asked, ‘How are you feeling?’ and he said, ‘Not too good right now.’ And that was kind of the same way I was feeling.
“But you can’t tell anything about that when he gets on the field. He makes so many big plays, pretty much all of our big plays have been through him, so that says a lot about how important he’s been for us.”
Durham brings four years of knowledge of Mike Bobo’s playbook to the huddle. He has played in big games in hostile environments. Georgia’s coaches also know he will keep a level head when circumstances become chaotic.
“Kris doesn’t really talk that much out on the field,” Georgia tackle Josh Davis said. “He’s going to be a teacher, and he’s always kind of been like a teacher. He never gets hyper or anything like that. He’s always calm and collected. He’s really good at explaining things to the guys, especially the outside receivers.”
Durham has positioned himself well for his final college football season. He has already graduated with an education degree. He’s taking post-graduate classes in education and wants to teach and coach middle school children.
Last spring, he was a student teacher at Oconee County Middle School. If a shot at the NFL does not work out, he already has a career plan as a teacher.
“I’ve been blessed,” Durham said. “I’ve gotten a lot of help from a lot of guys like my dad who are in that field, so it’s the easiest way to give back to the profession. I like the teaching part, it’s challenging. It’s hard to keep everybody motivated, especially kids at that age. They’re just interested in one thing and that’s what’s going on in their life. But you know what, it’s a lot of fun and I love it.”