Surely, Texas Longhorns senior defensive back Jarmarquis Durst never really expected to be here, but he did believe it was possible. And, sometimes, for certain special people, that matters so much more than the odds.
As the second youngest of 11 siblings growing up in Conroe, Durst saw and heard too much, too early, but the desire to keep the circumstances of his childhood from defining who he was and what he could become spurred him to overcome.
“I come from a big family,” Durst said in a profile for Big 12 Champions For Life. “I’ve got four brothers and six sisters. It was hard at times, because you see things that other kids your age didn’t see or you hear things that other kids your age didn’t hear. And I didn’t have the best childhood growing up. I knew of a harsh reality at the age of five.”
"I love Texas. For this university to pick me to represent this school ... it's a dream come true." - @DurstJarmarquis, @TexasFootball #HookEm #ChampionsForLife pic.twitter.com/RUhidn3cBX— Champions For Life (@Big12Champ4Life) October 3, 2018
“That fear, the fear of just being a product of my environment, that’s what drove me to want to do more.”
Now, a little more than four years after playing wide receiver at Conroe Oak Ridge, Durst is a scholarship football player at Texas.
His journey is a remarkable one in multiple ways, but the true football journey started after he posted solid numbers as a wide receiver at Oak Ridge during his senior season, just not remarkable enough to earn significant attention — 25 catches for 375 yards and two touchdowns.
So Durst headed to Tarleton State, a Division II school in Stephenville that plays in the Lone Star Conference with schools like Midwestern State, UT-Permian Basin, and Texas A&M-Kingsville.
As a freshman, Durst caught two passes for 18 yards and touchdown while playing on special teams before making a transition that opened up future possibilities. After moving to defense as a sophomore, Durst posted 54 tackles, three tackles for loss, a pass break up, and a quarterback hurry. In two games against Kingsville, Durst recorded a career-high 18 tackles in the playoffs after notching 12 tackles against the Javelinas during the regular season.
Durst then left Tarleton State and walked on at Texas, which he called a “dream come true.” After failing to see game action in 2016 under former head coach Charlie Strong, Durst made an impression on new head coach Tom Herman and his staff, which ultimately resulted in appearances against San Jose State and West Virginia last season.
“The first time that you meet him, the thing that does stand out is his work ethic,” said head coach Tom Herman. “He’s just a guy who shows up every day and does everything you ask him to do with a smile on his face. It doesn’t matter how hard it is, he’s going to be one of the hardest-working, if not the hardest-working, guys on our team. Just a guy who takes a tremendous amount of pride in what he does on and off the field.”
Beyond impressing the coaches, Durst is a positive example to his teammates, too.
“It’s very important to have a guy like him on the team because football is a game of ups and downs — and life is a game of ups and downs — and he’s just a humbling presence to see,” said junior linebacker Malcolm Roach. “To see where he came from, to keep that attitude all the time, and just see the way he comes in and works, he’s just very important to this team.”
Durst has also worked to make himself valuable to the community. During the Texas Special Olympics in 2017, Durst was a volunteer, and he also regularly attends team visits to the Dell Children’s Hospital, including every Friday before home games.
In May, Durst traveled to Jamaica as part of Soles 4 Souls after spending weeks with four other student-athletes collecting shoes to donate to those in need. Over the last 12 years, the organization has donated more than 30 million pairs of shoes in 127 countries.
All the hard work on and off the field paid off for Durst this fall. With attrition producing several available scholarships, Herman and his staff rewarded Durst for his efforts on and off the field — the senior was one of three players on the team to receive that recognition during preseason camp. Now he’ll finish his career with the Longhorns as a scholarship football player.
"So many people wrote me off. Just to be here I'm so thankful. Y'all make me love being here every day". Congratulations on your scholarship, @DurstJarmarquis. #ThisIsTexas #HookEm pic.twitter.com/oI1aL6cRXp— Texas Football (@TexasFootball) August 23, 2018
Durst — and his teammates — reacted to the news with understandable emotion.
“So many people wrote me off,” he said. “Just to be here I’m so thankful. Y’all make me love being here every day.”
Since then, Durst hasn’t stopped working. He secured a spot on the kickoff coverage unit and played in his third career game when Texas opened the season against Maryland. The staff’s confidence in Durst paid off, too — the 6’1, 200-pounder notched his first career tackle in that game.
Durst also played on special teams against Tulsa and TCU, in addition to an appearance against USC. After missing last weekend’s game against Kansas State with a severe shoulder sprain suffered against the Horned Frogs, Durst is expected to return to his special teams duties in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma on Saturday.
Football has already given Durst a path away from the circumstances of his youth, but he didn’t just do it for himself. He did it for his family.
“Football isn’t just something that I like doing, it’s something that I need in my life,” Durst said. “To be the first person in my family to go to college and one of the five people to graduate high school — those people who came before me, they paid the price for me. And me being in this situation that I am right now is showing them that everything that they did in life didn’t go to waste — that I learned from those things. Everything that’s happening to me is because of them.
“This scholarship, that wasn’t just for me, that was for my whole family. To show my younger brother Bishop and my nieces and nephews that you don’t have to be anything that you were born into or what’s around you. You can change anything in your life with hard work and dedication.”
A social work major who is on track to graduate in May, Durst will become the first member of his family with a college degree.