April 13, 2003
by Elizabeth Goers
Last football season’s theme of “Return to Glory” worked on more than one level for Irish senior Vontez Duff. The cornerback/kick returner set a new Notre Dame record in 2002 by returning 59 kicks in 2002 for a total of 911 yards. When asked about this accomplishment, Duff was quick to point out that the other 10 Irish football players on the field were a big reason for his achievement.
“I give the honor to my team; they’re the ones that got me there,” Duff said.
“I give them the credit. I’m just running the one running behind their blocks.
With the graduation of Arnaz Battle and Shane Walton in May, Duff will be the only experienced kick returner for Notre Dame. Sophomore wide receiver Rhema McKnight is expected to help fill in on kick and punt return duties in the 2003 season, but Duff will have to shoulder much of the load.
Duff has been an instant playmaker for the Irish during his career. He is the only person in irish history to return a kick, punt and interception for a touchdown in a single season and was only two yards away from becoming the first player in NCAA history to return a fumble, kick, punt and interception for TD in a season. He also became the first defensive player in Notre Dame history to record touchdowns in three straight games.
But besides his quickness, Duff explains that it is his attitude that will lead him to further success this fall.
“Every time I touch the ball I want to score,” Duff says.
“I feel as though God gave me the talent to do it, and that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to just get the ball and return it. I want to get the ball and return it for a touchdown. Being a defensive back, I don’t get to touch the ball that often, so when I get the ball kicked to me, it makes it that much easier for me to score.”
Duff, who has returned three kicks for touchdowns in his career, also has a chance of becoming Notre Dame’s all-time greatest kick returner this year, surpassing Irish great Tim Brown’s current record of 2,089 yards. He is currently sixth all-time with 1,349 yards and will pass other notable names include Rocket Ismail, Allen Rossum and Ricky Watters on his way to the top. To Duff, however, this almost seems unbelievable.
“I’d be a happy person to have my name up there with the greats,” said Duff.
“But I don’t think I will really recognize what it would all mean until I’m out of Notre Dame. Until then, it would be a great honor.”