Kyle Dugger is one of the NFL Draft’s unheralded stars

NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 27: Signage seen during the NFL Draft Experience on April 27, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Danielle Del Valle/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 27: Signage seen during the NFL Draft Experience on April 27, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Danielle Del Valle/Getty Images) /

From a late growth spurt, to receiving zero Division One offers, small school safety Kyle Dugger continues to embrace his inner underdog.

Kyle Dugger has been playing football since he was four years old, and now has become one of the hottest names in the 2020 NFL Draft class.

While LSU’s Grant Delpit and Alabama’s Xavier McKinney have generated the most buzz from the safety position, Dugger has seen his name skyrocket up the draft boards after a phenomenal week at the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.

What has gotten Dugger to this point in his football career? Embracing his role as the underdog, and not only embracing, but thriving. His motivation to wake up and put in long hours on a day-to-day basis, and perfect his craft is clear:

"“Other than the love of the game, It’s my family and our name. It’s time to put some respect on it; I feel like there is a lot of sleeping going on my entire family. Not just me, but my entire family and it has been like that for too long in my eyes.”"

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Dugger has carried this underdog mentality with him every step of the way. Entering Whitewater High School in Atlanta, Georgia at 5-foot-6, Dugger did not earn a starting role on his varsity team until his senior year where he totaled three picks and five passes defended.

Given his lack of starting experience, Dugger was hard-pressed to find a Division I program interested in his talents.

Despite being a two-sport varsity athlete in high school, being named First Team All-County in basketball as well where he averaged almost 10 points and four assists as a senior, Dugger struggled to garner much attention from colleges in pursuit of continuing his football career. While Dugger had conversations with some NCAA Division I-AA schools such as Wofford, Western Carolina, Alabama State, and Mercer, no offer was extended to the 6-foot, 217-pound safety.

Dugger received a couple NCAA Division II offers, and opted to head to North Carolina to continue his football career at Lenoir-Rhyne University. Again overlooked, Dugger seemed to be type-casted as the underdog, but once again thrived.

While at Lenoir-Rhyne, Dugger earned honors as the All-South Atlantic Conference defensive freshman of the year, was a two-time All-American, and won the Cliff Harris award for the best defensive player in all of Division II football. It’s an award won by the likes of Indianapolis Colts starting cornerback Pierre Desir and 2019 sixth-round pick of the New York Giants Corey Ballentine.

Throughout his college career, however, he never got to go up against the powerhouses of Clemson, Notre Dame, Alabama, or Ohio State. He never got to face his power five peers until last week when Dugger was in the same company as Clemson’s K’Von Wallace, Notre Dame’s Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman, Michigan’s Josh Metellus, and more safeties from said schools.

Despite a full trophy case from his time at Lenoir-Rhyne, facing off against Division I prospects was a new feat for Dugger. Knowing the opportunity was in front of him, Dugger once again embraced his role as the underdog.

“We are all here now and we are all here to play football at this point.”

Dugger went head-to-head with prospects like Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin and Mackey Award-winning tight end Harrison Bryant. Not only did Dugger line up across some of the best in college football this year, but he thrived.

It is time to wake up.

It seems Dugger has gotten the attention of many around the league. As he prepares for the NFL Scouting Combine next month, an event he is expected to showcase his athleticism, Dugger’s arrow looks to continue to point upwards, but do not expect the small school safety to lose the chip on his shoulder.

What message does Dugger have for the one NFL team of the 32 that selects him this upcoming April?

“Let’s get it.”