He’s done it before. And he’s excelled.
As a true freshman at West Virginia in 2015, Durante’s Mountaineers opened with three home wins before heading west to face the Sooners.
Trailing 24-7 in the third quarter of what would become the West Virginia’s first loss of the year, Mountaineers’ quarterback Skyler Howard audibled out of a goal-line run. Howard liked the coverage he saw against Durante, called an audible, and lofted the ball to his freshman wide out on a fade route.
“I just went up there and attacked it,” Durante remembers. “Came down with the ball. Touchdown.”
Durante added another receiving touchdown against Sooners the following year and in two games against the Sooners he’s caught seven passes for 83 yards. Two of Durante’s seven career touchdowns came against the Sooners, a Top 10 team in both meetings.
When Durante speaks about playing the Sooners – the Owls’ open the season on Saturday at No. 7 Oklahoma – it’s the voice of experience.
“We’re going in front of 90,000,” Durante said he advised the Owls. “Just make it seem like it’s nobody in the stands. Just go out and play.”
Durante recognizes that this year’s teammates, and the Sooners for that matter, are a different from the teams which he played on and against, but the advice Durante has for this group of Owls who are largely unaccustomed to playing in such a boisterous venue hasn’t changed from the way he approached that first game in Norman.
“I talk to them,” Durante said of his current teammates. “I try not to put so much on them, just basically telling them it’s going to be a big atmosphere. It’s going to be fun. We’ve just got to go in there and execute our plan.”
Durante sat out last season in compliance with NCAA rules after transferring to FAU and will be playing his first game as an Owl on Saturday. The Owls’ wide receiving plan this season, which calls for a heavy dose of Durante, hasn’t been executed smoothly this fall.
Hampered by an undisclosed injury, Durante was one of a handful of wide receivers who missed time during camp – a group that also included starting slot receiver Willie Wright.
On Tuesday both Durante and Wright said they are healthy and ready for Saturday.
Their health is crucial for an offense in search of certainty. While the FAU quarterback battle drew much of the attention this fall – and coach Lane Kiffin has yet to announce who will start against the Sooners – over the past week Kiffin has called out the wide receiver unit for their lack of production.
“He’s been on us a lot,” Wright said.
Kiffin said he’s spoken with the wide receivers about eliminating controllable mistakes, including formation errors, alignment errors and assignment errors – mistakes he referred to as common “ Week 1 issues.”
Durante sees Kiffin’s criticisms as a positive.
“He knows we have talent in our group, in our receiver room,” Durante said. “He basically doesn’t want us to be complacent, He’s being hard on us for a reason. That’s the way I see it.”