The academic advisor on that staff was Jeff Kaplan, like Duffner, a fast young-and-up-and-comer who had been a G.A. for Hayes the year before. Soon Duffner would be the youngest defensive coordinator in the country at the University of Cincinnati and Kaplan would begin a versatile executive career blending talents in higher education and health.
But back then they were two kids who grew a bond on the grind under Wayne Woodrow Hayes.
“I’ve got a picture I’ve put in my office at every university I’ve ever been,” Kaplan says. “It’s picture of eight young (coaches) at a bar. Duff and I are the only guys drinking cokes.
“The thing about Duff, he’s a wonderful coach. But he’s an even better person.”
That’s how Kaplan saw Abu, too. As he looked at the story, he could hear Woody.
“Woody Hayes always taught us, ‘Look at family. Look at perseverance.’ This guy has been through a lot,” Kaplan says. “He has the will, the commitment.
“A lot of great athletes coming into college out of high school have the talent and Woody always said you have to have that. But he’d say to look beyond that to the family and what the character is and this guy just seemed to have the character. Heart is what it really is. He’s got the heart.”
Kaplan jokes he was worried that Duffner, just off his first Super Bowl trip, would shake his head and say under his breath, “What’s that crazy Kaplan doing now?” But he knew he wouldn’t.
“Jeff’s a very, very dear friend and I told him to send me what he had,” Duffner says. “I talked to Abu and he’s got a great story, but you could also see the talent. He had some (game) video and I asked him to send me some of him working out.”
Duffner took what he had on his phone from Daramy-Swaray and sent it to Travis Brammer, the Bengals Vicar of Video. Duffner pegs him at a 4.4-second 40-yard dash and at least a 40-inch vertical jump. The package was sent on to Tobin and Radicevic in personnel and the thumbs-up was given for a tryout at rookie minicamp.
Naturally, “When Duff called to tell me I had the tryout I was delivering pizzas,” Daramy-Swaray says. “I couldn’t believe it. Here it was, two years after I got our of college and it was here.”
Duffner made it official with a classic needle: “If I was at Holy Cross, we would have gone right after you.”
The rest of the coaches saw in the tryout what Duffner had seen and heard from Kaplan.
“Starting from the top with Mr. (Mike) Brown,” Duffner says, “everyone felt he deserved a chance and I think you’d have to say it’s good for both sides,” and Daramy-Swaray has been overwhelmed with the welcome from guys he couldn’t watch back in February.
Guys like Apple, whose mother’s family is in Ghana. He noticed the name and asked about his African roots and they’ve clicked.
“All these guys have welcomed me with open arms. Vets and rookies. It hasn’t mattered,” he says. “Eli’s been great. My mother’s a big Ohio State fan so we followed him there. You think of that and now he’s helping me after practice with my technique.”
Three months later, he’s sitting in a Super Bowl locker room and Bengals equipment man Ryan Eckerle is putting a folded towel in the top shelf of his locker for tomorrow.
“Thank you so much,” he says.
The veterans are off Friday. The rookies, even the one that turns 26 in a couple of weeks, have to be in.
“God has a plan for everybody,” he says, “and this is my plan.”