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College football: Riverside Military graduate Khalid Duke shining with Big 12 champion Kansas State
Khalid Duke
TCU running back Kendre Miller (33) runs the ball as he is pursued by Kansas State linebacker and Riverside Military Academy graduate Khalid Duke (29) during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in Fort Worth, Texas. Richard Rodriguez Associated Press

Khalid Duke has made the most of every opportunity. 

A junior linebacker for Kansas State University, the Riverside Military Academy graduate has gone from a late bloomer on the football field to becoming one of the Big 12 champion Wildcats top defenders. 

Just a few days ago, Duke got to celebrate his first conference championship against playoff-bound and fourth-ranked TCU in overtime on Dec. 3 in Arlington, Texas. 

Now the relentless linebacker, who spent all four years of high school at the private military school in Gainesville, looks forward to leading No. 9 Kansas State (10-3) into a battle against No. 5 Alabama (10-2) in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Eve in New Orleans. 

“It really feels unreal (winning the conference championship) right now,” said Duke, who finished his senior season with the Eagles in 2018 recording 142 tackles (17 for a loss). “It’s been a lot of hard work and dedication to get to this point.”

This year, Duke has bounced back with 42 tackles (five for a loss) and three sacks for the Wildcats, after missing most of the 2021 season with a knee injury. 

He’s made a full recovery, playing in all 13 games and had a season-best eight tackles (three for a loss) against Texas Tech. 

And in the Big 12 championship game, Duke had one of his best moments, a third-down stop with a tackle on the goal-line play in OT to keep the Horned Frogs out of the end zone. 

Even though it was a big moment, no one was able to celebrate yet with the game still knotted at 28-28, before K-State’s Ty Zentner was good on the 31-yard field goal in overtime to secure a berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game. 

However, once it was over, his huge touchdown-saving stop has been a nice memory that Duke will cherish for a long time. 

Even though the injury early in the 2021 was frustrating, it only strengthened his resolve to make it to the NFL. 

As a fourth-year junior, Duke said he intends to return to Kansas State in 2023, with hopes of winning another Big 12 championship as well as All-Big 12 honors. 

Duke felt like his college career got off to a great start during the summer of 2019. 

Shortly after practice started, Duke said he was coming out on top in one-on-one drills, which drew the attention of the coaching staff. 

As a freshman in 2019, Duke played in seven games and recorded his first-career sack against Kansas, then saw action in nine game in 2020.

Duke was off to a strong start in 2021 before sustaining the ACL injury against Nevada.  

The 6-foot-4, 245-pound linebacker said the upward trajectory of his football started with the move to Riverside Military before his freshman year with his older brother, Kaseem, who was a senior. 

Although he came from a smaller high school, Duke was on the radar as the 83rd-best outside linebacker nationally in the Class of 2019, according to ESPN. 

He said moving to Gainesville got him away from the trouble that was so easy to find growing up in Atlanta. 

And once at Riverside Military, Duke put his mind to flourishing on the football field. 

He said the school’s environment set him up for future success. 

“Riverside taught discipline and structure,” Duke said. “It taught me about work ethic and always being on time everywhere you go.”

His advice to every younger player is to continue to pursue any dreams they may have. 

“If you really want something, you have to work for it,” Duke said. “When I got here (K-State), I had to work for my starting position. Everyone had an advantage over me since they came out of bigger programs.”

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