Maturing, improving Durden helping FSU take step forward

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The bumps, bruises and pain add up over the course of a football season. Cory Durden has been fighting through a shoulder injury, and a bye week before a rivalry matchup with Florida couldn’t have come at a better time.

And Durden contemplated, briefly, taking a game off or calling it a season early. But the Florida State defensive tackle insists he can play through it for a myriad of reasons.

“It’s been iffy for the last couple weeks,” Durden said after the win over Alabama State. “I’ve been fighting through it. I love this team. I’m not going to pack it up before this season is over.”

It would be easy to shut it down. Physical pain. An emotional toll of an up-and-down season. A head coach being dismissed with three regular-season games to go. Durden is also weeks away from becoming a father.

Durden has plenty of reasons to keep pushing forward. It’s who he is but it’s also a desire to not let down Marvin Wilson, who can’t play due to hand surgery, and because his position coach, Odell Haggins, is now leading the Seminoles (6-5) as the interim head coach.

And, of course, the regular-season finale against No. 8 Florida (9-2) will be played just minutes from Durden’s hometown.

“I have seen him mature over the last three years,” said Edward Johnson, who coached Durden at Newberry High and has known him going back to his middle-school years. “A lot of that is Odell, just being around Odell every day, pushing him. Marvin is a great player and a great leader. Cory gravitates toward that.

“He sees the way Marvin works and it makes him want to work that hard and to be that kind of player.”

Durden has 32 tackles and his 4.5 sacks are second on the team to Wilson, who had five sacks in nine games before suffering the season-ending injury in the Miami game. A redshirt sophomore, Durden has good fundamentals and is playing the game faster, Osceola football analyst and former FSU offensive lineman Mark Salva said.

“He’s seeing things better, diagnosing, reading keys,” Salva said. “Reacting and getting off blocks faster. Still gets outmuscled occasionally, but is long and runs well. Has a great opportunity to elevate his game and produce against a top 10 team and very capable offensive line in Florida.”

Losing Wilson created a big void in talent but also leadership. Durden wants to make sure that he does everything he can, filling in where Wilson can’t.

“I don’t want to let him down,” Durden said. “We’ve been together for a while. We hold each other to a standard. I used that as motivation.”

Yes, Wilson has been a leader. He met the team bus when it arrived at the Moore Athletic Center following the road victory over Boston College. And Wilson was active on the sideline in the win over Alabama State. But Durden has often taken on that leadership role on the field as the Seminoles prepare for Florida on Saturday (7:30 p.m. on SEC Network).

“Cory Durden is playing a big role,” Haggins said. “He’s being himself. That’s what I want him to play. Play hard, play disciplined, and play 100 miles per hour.”

Durden has always embraced sports and played hard. Growing up in Newberry, just to the west of Gainesville, Durden loved basketball. Johnson coached Durden on the hardwood, too.

“Basketball was always a big part of his life,” Johnson said. “But his body said he was going to be a football player. And that love for football was also there.”

Durden was predominantly a tight end early in high school, grabbing three touchdown catches in one season. But his body size made sense on the defensive line and he recorded 52 tackles and six sacks as a senior at Newberry High in 2016. Just months later, Durden as well as his good friend and prep teammate Ja’len Parks chose FSU. (Ja’len Parks, the son of former Seminole John Parks, took a medical disqualification due to injuries in August.)

After taking a redshirt, Durden made 22 tackles and two sacks in 2018. He took on a bigger role as a starter this fall and now has evolved as a leader, too.

Durden isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Or tweet his thoughts. He has been a vocal supporter of Haggins, not just as a position coach but an advocate for him to be promoted to the head coaching job permanently. He had a not-so-subtle shot at Syracuse in October when he said, “They definitely look different than they did last year. Last year, they were a pretty good football team.”

He is often outspoken during games and after games.

“Cory loves to speak his mind,” Johnson said. “He’s been like that pretty much his whole life. He says what’s on his mind. He’s going to speak it and deal with it afterwards.”

After a bye week that helped Durden and many of the Seminoles rest up, he is looking forward to an FSU-Florida matchup at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Just down the road from where he grew up.

“I can not wait,” Durden said. “This is my first time playing in Gainesville. I’m excited.”

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