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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Payne Durham 'Honored' to Inherit 87 from Rob Gronkowski

Rookie TE Payne Durham wore number 87 in high school and college in honor of Rob Gronkowski, and now he's got the same jersey in the NFL and he hopes to follow in Gronk's footsteps


Payne Durham didn't start playing prep football until his senior season at Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, Georgia, but when he did it seemed like he already had a career path in mind. He requested jersey number 87 because that's what Rob Gronkowski was wearing in 2017 with the New England Patriots.

Durham – a lacrosse star who was lured onto the gridiron by Peachtree Ridge's new football coach, Reggie Stancil – took to the tight end position so well that he received offers from several D1 schools and eventually chose Purdue. During his second season in West Lafayette, Gronkowski retired, citing an accumulation of injuries over the year. During Durham's third year at Purdue, Gronkowski un-retired to join his pal, Tom Brady, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Durham wore 87 for the Boilermakers, too, and Gronkowski did the same with the Buccaneers.

Gronkowski retired for good in 2022 after two seasons and one more Super Bowl ring with the Buccaneers, and no Tampa Bay player wore his vacated jersey number last season. That means Durham, who was drafted by the Buccaneers in the fifth round in 2023, had a shot at it. He did not hesitate to follow in Gronkowski's considerable footsteps.

"They gave me a small list of numbers to pick, and it was kind of no-brainer for me," he said. "When I wore my high school number, I picked 87 because of Gronk, college number it was still 87, here it's still 87, [and] if someone else drafted me I would've asked for 87. It's an honor. The greatest tight end of all time, I'm wearing his jersey from two-years ago so definitely an honor, definitely a privilege and I'm looking forward to trying to fill those shoes slowly."

Durham and his fellow rookies took the field in their Buccaneers jerseys for the first time on Friday to open the team's three-day rookie minicamp. The newcomers had only arrived in Tampa the day before, and for Durham the fact that his one-season cameo as a high school football player had led him to the NFL and Gronkowski's old locker room was starting to sink in.

"It hit me yesterday when I walked in," he said. "I was like, 'Man this is kind of cool.' Yeah, it definitely hit me, I called my high school coach that got me into football the other day and just thanked him again. I do that like once a week. But yeah it's an awesome experience and I hope it's nowhere near over yet."

Durham may have Gronkowski's number (and who knows, maybe he'll get his old locker) but it would be unfair to saddle any young tight ends with the expectation of matching that future Hall-of-Famer's career output. But it's not a stretch to think he could be a similar threat in the red zone, as he is adept at winning contested-catch situations and finding openings in tight quarters.

"I know what I am; I'm not going to pretend to be something I'm not," he said. "So, that's been my whole career, so I have to find ways to create short-space separation. Like I said, get my hands free, make those contested catches, it's just something I've got to do. If you put me in a phone booth, I've got to be able to get open so that's something I've always prided myself in being able to do. Yeah, maybe the 40 wasn't the best but if you put me in a 10-yard box I'm going to get open. So, that's what I set out to do."

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