Prior to sixth grade, Luke Duska was a great athlete. But it was just in baseball and basketball.
Then a friend at St. Matthew grade school talked Duska and a bunch of guys to go out for the football team.
Duska enjoyed it, but it certainly wasn’t his favorite sport.
“I liked it, but I was a baseball player and a basketball player first,” said Duska, now a senior at Roman Catholic High School. “It was OK. I liked it a little and a lot of my friends were doing it, so I kept doing it.
“When I got to Roman, I was big so I played football, but once (Roman coach Rick Prete) became our coach before last year, I didn’t know what I could do. He told me that I could play in college and I could be really good. He really got me thinking about playing college football.”
It didn’t take Prete’s words long to sink in. A few months of taking the game seriously, and he became a stud. And now he’s going to play at a very high level in college.
Duska, who grew up in Mayfair before moving to the Main Line, will play college football at Elon University in North Carolina. Elon competes in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
“There were a lot of reasons I really liked Elon, it’s a great situation for me,” Duska said. “I went to private school my whole life, at St. Matt’s and Roman. It’s a good school that has a great ratio of students to teachers. I think that’s better for me. And the school has a great communications program, and that’s what I want to do. I would like to do sports broadcasting. So it’s a great school, academically.
“The football is great, too. It’s a great level of football, and they play a good schedule. I also wanted to go to a place where I could play, and they’re going to give me an opportunity, so that was big. And I really like the coaching staff.
“I’m happy it’s in North Carolina, too. I wanted to go away. I wanted to force myself to be independent. I didn’t want to go to a place where I could come home a lot.”
Duska wants independence, but when it comes to playing football, he loves being a part of a team. And that’s why he loves playing offensive line.
Last year, Duska took over as a starter at offensive tackle and he excelled, earning Second-Team All-Catholic. He also sees some time at defense in short-yardage situations, but blocking is his bread and butter.
“I love offensive line, I love run blocking the most,” Duska said. “Offensive line is my favorite because you have to work as a unit. It feels great to have a huge block, but nothing feels better than blocking someone and having a running back go right off your hip for a big gain. It takes everyone doing their job, and when you do your job and it leads to a big gain, it’s the best feeling.”
Playing line might be fun, but it’s not too easy to do in the Catholic League Red Division.
Like every team in the league, the Cahillites go up against the best teams in the area. Teams like St. Joe’s Prep, La Salle, Archbishop Wood and Father Judge are loaded with talented players, so Duska is almost always tasked with keeping a strong defender from creating havoc in Roman’s backfield.
“It’s not easy, but that makes you better,” said Duska, who heard from a lot of colleges during the recruitment process before picking Elon in July. “Most of the guys you’re going up against are going to play at the next level. I think the Philadelphia Catholic League, especially the Red Division, isn’t just the best football league in the area, it’s one of the best in the country. Every team is good.
“It’s fun playing everyone, but last year my favorite game was against Judge. We had to go to Ramp, and I know a lot of guys on that team. I grew up with a lot of them. They’re good football players. But we beat them last year, so that was really fun.”
Roman caused a lot of teams problems last year. It was the first one under the new coach, and the Cahillites won five games, including a triumph over the Class 5A state champion Archbishop Wood.
Roman could be even better this year, and so should the anchor of its offensive line.
When Duska entered high school, he was around 230 pounds. Last year he was 6 feet 4, 260 pounds. His goal is to be around 300 pounds this year. He’s about five pounds shy of that mark right now.
“I’ve been doing something called a dirty bulk, where I eat a lot, whatever I can just to put weight on, and then I lift a lot to get stronger,” Duska said. “It was hard when my gym shut down. At first I had to do things like push-ups and things where I use my own body weight to get stronger. But then we went out and tried to get weights as cheap as possible. It was hard, but we got a squat rack and we were able to get a bench at a yard sale. My dad’s friend helped me get some plates to lift. So I didn’t miss much time lifting.”
Now he’s just hoping for a chance to have that fond farewell season before heading off to college.
He knows the PCL will once again be tough, but he’s looking forward to playing with his guys.
“I’m happy I have the recruiting done, now I can just focus on football,” said Duska, who works in the dairy section at Acme. “We should have a good season this year. And they’re just going to keep getting better. I think in a few years, Roman is going to be one of the best teams around.”