Family Edition: Duren twins made the most of their high school football careers at OakcrestBy DAVE O’SULLIVAN
As little kids, the Duren twins weren’t all that motivated to do much of anything, other than eat and play video games. Even when they were 12 or 13 years old, there was no indication that the rolly-poley boys would end up becoming two of the best offensive linemen in South Jersey by the time they were seniors at Oakcrest High School.
But a little persuasion from classmate Teagan Hay and her mom, Allison, changed the boys’ lives forever.
“Allison Hay helped us get into the Hamilton Knights program. Her daughter, Teagan, came up to us one day and started talking about it, and we started playing the next day,” said Armond, the older of the Duren twins by a few minutes.
“We didn’t do anything before football. We just sat home playing XBox. We were bowling balls. People used to call us the human bowling balls. All we did was sit home, eat and play video games. That was our life,” admitted Armani. “We started trying to play basketball to lose some weight, because we were really huge. My first impression of football was, I fell in love with it. I was losing weight and I was having fun doing it. I wanted to be one of the best. Our eighth grade year, we went 8-2-1, so we wanted to bring that legacy over to (Oakcrest). I brought my individual work ethic here, and I’m always trying to build on it because once I get to college, I want to keep getting better.”
This past fall, the Duren twins showed the promise that coach Eric Anderson always knew they had, as they led one of the most dynamic offenses in South Jersey. The Falcons won six games, barely missing out on the playoffs after a late-season loss to Cedar Creek, but Oakcrest still was one of the most formidable offensive units in the West Jersey Football League. Behind the blocking of Armond at right tackle and Armani at left tackle, Yaier Hinton put up nearly 700 yards rushing and quarterback Kendall Elliott added more than 500 rushing yards while throwing for more than 1,000 yards.
“They are fun to be around, great kids, hard workers. They are a joy to coach, both on and off the field. Junior year, they both became starters as their footwork got remarkably better. As a tackle, whether you’re on the right side or the left side, you need to have good feet to get back, down block, all of that. End of sophomore year and into their junior year is when they really started to come around,” Anderson said. “They jumped a lot of rope and did a lot of footwork drills, and when it clicked, it clicked. Once they figured out they could move pretty well for big guys — and their dedication in the weight room — set them apart.”
Once the Duren twins realized they had a talent for football, they dove into the process of conditioning their bodies while also learning every day how to become better offensive linemen. Their hard work has paid off, as both plan to play at the next level at Kean University next fall. They give a lot of credit for their transformation as chubby kids to college linemen to their mother, Kimberly Ross, older sister Ambria and cousins Vincent and Anthony Scirrotto, as well as the Oakcrest coaching staff.
“There were some big boys on Oakcrest when we got here. I was getting tossed around because I didn’t have any muscle mass on me at all. I was just straight fat. But that started changing sophomore year when I started playing lacrosse. I started to lose some weight, and in the summer I was getting in the weight room consistently. I would go in there and just grind,” Armani said. “I’m ready to take that next step and play college ball. I feel like I’m hungrier to play college ball than I was in high school, because now I know what I’m doing more.”
Not only did the Durens’ bodies mature (they are now each about 6-foot-3, 260 pounds), but they matured as leaders of the Oakcrest football program along with fellow seniors such as Hinton, Elliott, Donnie Stone, Alex Nichols, Zeb Smith and Larry Mensah.
“They were definitely leaders and were fun to be around. They kept things light and liked to have fun, but they were also about the business of football,” Anderson said. “It was like a brotherhood for those guys, just being around each other all the time. And (the Duren boys) were definitely the lynch pin of my senior class.”
Ironically, they never really went up against each other all that much in practice. But having more than 500 combined pounds at the tackle positions certainly helped out guys such as Hinton, Nichols and Mensah. They made the Falcons’ defense better because they anchored such a formidable offensive line.
“We never really went up against each other in practice. We went up against our boy Alex Nichols, we had to get him better,” Armond said. “And, as you see, he got a lot better. He’s big, strong and fast. We would go at it from time to time.”
“I’m very competitive in everything I do,” Armani added. “I was second in pancake blocks to our left guard, Yanni (Delvalle). He’s a very good athlete, and we would go at it on the field. We would try to pancake guys all season, and I came up short to him by two.”
While the Duren twins were all business when it came to the practice field, they certainly had their share of fun and helped keep things light through the grind of a long football season. Their main focus every day, they said, is to bring joy to the people around them. In a sense, they are like two big, happy teddy bears — except on game day, of course.
“I’m going to miss this place because it taught us a lot. Taught us how to grow. It was a very fun season, even though we had our ups and downs. We balled out with all those guys,” Armani said. “I hope people will say we came out, balled and had fun. We bring energy to people. Anywhere we go, we bring up the energy.”
“Not just on the field, but in the community, everybody,” Armond added. “Everybody we see, they are always happy to see us and have a smile on their face, and I like that. We just don’t like seeing people sad.”
It’s not easy being an offensive lineman. You don’t get much credit, as the headlines always go to the quarterback and running back. So the Durens made sure to let guys such as Elliott and Hinton know that whenever they got interviewed after games, remember who was doing the blocking for four quarters.
“We were the ones grinding in the trenches every day, so when senior year came, I said, ‘Kendall, make sure you give us a shout out every time you get interviewed. Kendall and Yaier Hinton, we told them if they gave us shout outs, we would love them forever,” Armani said.
Armond and Armani Duren are very much alike, but they are also different, as witnessed by the memories that will stand out most in their minds from their days at Oakcrest.
“I enjoyed every moment with my teammates,” Armond said. “I’ll remember putting on my pads before my last game. I was like, ‘dang, this is it.’ I was thinking, this is my last game — and all this bad energy was in my body. I just wanted to get out onto the field and hit somebody.”
“All my memories are good. I just love playing football,” Armani added. “One of my best memories was freshman year, and that’s when I knew we were all brothers. We went on a tubing trip and we all fell out of the tube. We had to swim for about a quarter of a mile to find our tubes, because the current was taking them away from us. And I beat everybody there, to the tubes. That water was just crazy.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays