Around this time last year, Cobie Durant was gearing up for another season of South Carolina State football. Playing in the NFL was still a hypothetical future possibility.
Fast-forward to today, and the 24-year-old cornerback has swapped the cornfields of South Carolina for Hollywood. He's traded in his red-and-white Bulldogs uniform for the blue and gold of the defending Super Bowl champion Rams. And he's preparing to kick off the 2022 regular season against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday alongside some of the most imposing figures in the game.
"Really seeing Aaron Donald, like, up close in person, I was like, 'There's no way he's built like this,' " Durant joked recently, referring to the 6-foot-1, 280-pound three-time Defensive Player of the Year. "And just seeing how he goes about his workday, he attacks every day the same way, and that's probably why he's been 99 overall on Madden every year ... that's just amazing to see."
The Rams, somewhat famously, have not leaned on high draft picks to build their team in recent seasons, preferring to trade those away for more established veteran help. Thanks in part to the acquisitions of Matthew Stafford and Von Miller, they had only two picks in the top 150 overall selections this year.
And they used one of those (No. 142, in Round 4) on Durant.
After receiving zero scholarship offers while at Lamar High School in South Carolina (and during a stint working at FedEx), Durant walked on at South Carolina State, going on to earn MEAC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2021. He also landed on the radar of Rams general manager Les Snead, who would scoop up Durant as part of his "strategically" targeted search for DBs to add to a defense that ranked 22nd against the pass in 2021.
So how has Durant -- one of four players selected out of a Historically Black College or University this year, after none were drafted out of an HBCU in 2021 -- been adjusting to the pros?
Let's let the winner of the receiving triple crown last year tell it.
"I think the biggest thing (that stands out) early on is he is very confident in what he does," Rams receiver Cooper Kupp said, early in training camp. "I think a lot of guys, a lot of times when they first come in here, they feel like they got to change who they are, and they've got to fit and be someone else. They've watched the NFL everywhere, they want to do something differently, but a lot of times, it's about being the best version of you.
"I think for him what sticks out to me is his willingness to stand on that ground and say, 'This is who I am, and [I will] be who I am.' "
In the first week of full practice with the Rams, during training camp, Durant made several plays on the ball, including an interception. He saw progressively more action in each preseason contest, logging seven tackles -- and, by his telling, zero jitters.
"I wasn't nervous in no preseason games," said the rookie. "I guess because I was going up against Matthew Stafford, Kupp, Allen Robinson, a high-powered offense throughout training camp, and all the nerves and things went out the window."
One highlight was his performance in Week 2 against the Texans. Durant logged a pair of solo tackles, a pass breakup that almost led to an interception, a forced fumble that went out of bounds and a sack of quarterback Davis Mills.
Durant's effort even caught the attention of a certain NBA star.
Like everyone else, Cobie thought Kevin Durant's tweet claiming him as his cousin was pretty neat.
"I was just like, man, that's crazy. I didn't know until (safety) Jordan Fuller was like, 'Yo, Kevin Durant just tweeted at you.' KD is one of my favorite basketball players," Durant said.
The Rams' depth chart at cornerback includes established veterans like three-time All-Pro Jalen Ramsey and eighth-year pro Troy Hill. How much playing time Durant gets in the regular season remains to be seen. In the meantime, he's focused on honing his craft and taking advantage of all the resources at his disposal, whether he's in the weight room lifting, breaking down tape with Ramsey or listening to Kupp, who challenges him from a receiver's standpoint. Durant is soaking it all up.
Durant's position coach, Jonathan Cooley, said the first-year pro has plenty of upside and is already showcasing it.
"You don't really have to tell him things twice," Cooley said. "He's such a competitor. No moment is really too big for him. He really rose to the top during training camp; he made a lot of plays against guys like Cooper Kupp. He played well in the preseason.
"He's very coachable and very smart, we love having him, and he's got versatility, which is hard to do as a rookie, too."
While the future looks bright, Durant doesn't forget where he came from. He continues to practice the very same habits that got him to this point, living out his dream, checking off one goal at a time.
"My first goal was to make the 53-man roster. I did that," Durant said. "Next goal I checked off again was staying healthy through training camp. I checked that off. And now it's just staying healthy through the season, and whenever my name is called, the players that are out there beside me, they can count on me."
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