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Landis Durham finding footing at end of line

September 29, 2017 GMT

There’s no secret behind how Plano East’s Landis Durham found his way to defensive end after arriving at Texas A&M in the fall of 2015.

“I really would enjoy opening up some restaurants,” Durham said. “I love food.”

Durham made three tackles while putting on 20 pounds as a freshman linebacker at A&M, then in the offseason coaches moved him to defensive end. Again he made just three tackles as a sophomore while being buried on a depth chart that included two future NFL players starting ahead of him.

Those guys -- Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall -- are gone, and Durham’s role as a junior is now much bigger.

But Durham says the major shift in the depth chart isn’t the only reason he’s playing more. He’s had to earn his time on the field even with Garrett gone to the Cleveland Browns and Hall to the Carolina Panthers.

“In the spring [defensive line coach Terry Price] said he liked what I was doing and to keep on grinding and that they needed another [rotation player],” Durham said. “Then, Game 1, I guess I got in there ... I wanted to make sure I played fast. Coach Price told me I took some steps in the right direction and to make sure I keep on going that way. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”

If he took “some steps” in the opener, he’s run a marathon since.

Durham, listed as the backup to senior Qualen Cunningham, leads the Aggies in sacks with 3.5 and leads the defensive linemen in tackles with 14.

“It’s great,” Durham said of his bigger role. “I’m not looking at myself too much in an individual standpoint, but for me I just want to make sure I continue to do my job and make positive plays for the team and contribute to the success we are having.”

A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin named Durham his player of the game in last week’s 50-43 overtime victory over Arkansas. Durham had five tackles, including two sacks of Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen.

“Right now he is the most improved player on this football team,” Sumlin said. “He is a developmental guy that has gotten his shot and has been very, very productive in the first four ballgames. Landis has really worked himself into a fine football player, and he is part of what developmental is about -- a linebacker that moved to defensive end. He’s smart, understands his limitations and has gotten big enough he can hold up in there, 250-something [pounds] and is really developing as a pass rush.”

He could also be described as patient with the ability to prioritize. The three-star recruit from Plano East saw so little playing time during his first two years at A&M that he made sure it didn’t affect his overall experience in Aggieland.

“Things weren’t looking great for the first two years, but I stayed true to the team, stayed true to the school, and it’s great,” Durham said. “It was hard times, but a school like this ... I’m not one to turn down this education. I consider myself pretty patient, but anyway it goes, football, no football, it’s a great school, great education, so I know I’m going to be here.”

A portion of Durham’s education included learning from Garrett and Hall last season as he moved from linebacker to defensive end, a position he played at Plano East but lost touch with as an Aggie freshman.

“It was actually pretty hard learning a whole bunch of new techniques, new moves, but Coach Price did a great job coaching me up, spending extra time before practice, after practice, learning new techniques,” Durham said. “I don’t know why for some reason it felt really weird coming back to it. [Garrett and Hall] helped me out with technique, pass rush moves, just leverage. I learned a lot from them.”

Durham’s two sacks against Arkansas matched his total for each of his final two seasons at Plano East, although he was named Collin County Utility Player of the Year by the Plano Courier as a senior when he had 32 quarterback pressures.

“Nobody thought he was going to come out and do anything,” A&M defensive tackle Kingsley Keke said. “He is working his butt off, and he’s going to keep doing this. He’d been playing good the past couple games, but the Arkansas game was when he got his name out there. He works hard, has a high motor and good technique that Coach Price has helped him with.”

Help that might get Price a table at one of the restaurants Durham has aspirations of opening.

“I have a couple in mind,” Durham said. “We could do some Cajun food, some good old steakhouse and seafood grills. They would be all over, definitely in Dallas and definitely one right here.”