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Column: Duke upbeat despite fourth ACL tear

Just a few months ago, Wesley Duke was celebrating the improbable.

The Meadowcreek grad had gone from NFL longshot to NFL player, even lining up as the Denver Broncos' starting tight end in last year's AFC Championship Game vs. Pittsburgh. Denver had high hopes for the athletic 25-year-old Duke, who made the team despite not playing football since high school, and sent him to NFL Europe this spring.

But in late May, Duke's fortune took a miserable turn. On the first day of the Broncos' team camp, he tore the ACL in his left knee. It was a familiar scene for a guy who now sports four ACL tears of the same knee.

Three days after the injury, the Broncos waived him.

"Stuff happens to you, so you just have to roll with it," said Duke, who is recovering in Colorado. "You have to make the best of it. At first I thought, why me? Now I'm like, it happened so you've got to make the best of it."

Through all of his adversity, Duke has maintained a consistently positive attitude. It seems unfair that life keeps throwing wrenches in his plans, but he takes each shot and comes back for more.

His first ACL tear came on the first play of his senior football season at Meadowcreek. He reinjured the knee as a freshman at Mercer, hurt it again his sophomore year and then missed the entire 2001 season because of the injury.

He rebounded to finish off a productive college basketball career, and then attempted football, a sport he hadn't played in six years. He had a solid rookie season, particularly given his football experience, catching a touchdown pass vs. Buffalo and getting his first pro start in the AFC title game.

After spending the spring in Germany with the Hamburg Sea Devils of NFL Europe, he came to Denver camp as a beast physically at 6-foot-5, 247 pounds. He felt great, saying that added weight didn't hinder the athleticism that made him one of college basketball's most renowned dunkers.

Then the only weak spot on his chiseled frame gave out once again.

Surgery was five weeks ago and Duke hopes to get off his crutches soon. Another tough round of rehabilitation is on tap as he seeks to prove the naysayers wrong, many of whom think this knee injury may end his career.

"I definitely plan on coming back," Duke said. "I'll be back next year, no doubt. I'll be able to hold up. It's weird that it keeps happening, but I know (the knee) will hold up."

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays.