WATERTOWN — He’s a long way from Happy Valley, but Curtis Dukes couldn’t be happier to be back on the football field.
Dukes — a 2009 Indian River high School graduate and a former running back at Division I Penn State University — made his Watertown Red and Black debut Saturday night during the team’s preseason opener.
Dukes ran the ball 20 times for 135 yards and scored a touchdown, but the Red and Black suffered a 28-12 defeat to the Western Connecticut Militia at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
Dukes started practicing with the team in early June.
“It’s been really good, everybody is showing love and support and it’s just good to get back on the field,” Dukes said.
Dukes was the Times Athlete of the Year in 2008 and led Indian River to five straight appearances in the Class A state playoffs.
He played three seasons for the Nittany Lions, 2010-12, enjoying his best season as a sophomore when he was third on the team in rushing with 41 carries for 237 yards.
He left the school in January 2013 and has one year of college eligibility remaining. Dukes said he plans to use up that year and is looking at his options.
“I’m definitely looking to get back to college to get some exposure, and my main goal is to get into the NFL,” said Dukes, a tough downhill runner who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs around 250 pounds.
“I’m trying to find somewhere that will be a good fit for me, and take off from there,” he added.
Dukes said he joined the Red and Black to stay in football shape for his next venture.
“I’m looking to going back to college so I definitely want to keep my body in shape and just get back into it, and it just feels good to be back playing,” he said.
On Saturday, Dukes busted off five runs of 12 yards or more, the highlight being a 40-yard scamper in the third quarter.
He scored on a 19-yard rush up the middle on 4th-and-2 early in the second quarter to put the Red and Black on the board and cut the Militia’s lead to 14-6.
“I saw him play in high school and knew what he was all about,” Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said.
“Everybody around him is excited to have him on the team, he’s a good ball player and he’s got a great attitude.”
Dukes is expected to be the lead back in a one-two punch with Red and Black veteran Joe Brennan when the regular season opens on July 12 at Glens Falls.
Brennan missed Saturday’s game after pulling his hamstring in Thursday’s practice. Brennan said it was the first game he didn’t suit up for since joining the team in 2008.
Red and Black safety Evan Buckingham picked off two passes from Militia quarterback Kevin Oberg. The Beaver River graduate returned one of them 40 yards for a touchdown on the last play of the first half to cut Western Connecticut’s lead to 21-12 at the break.
Red and Black quarterback Mike Lafex — who rejoined the team this offseason after a nine-year layoff — completed six of 27 passes for 83 yards and threw two interceptions.
For the Militia, Oberg completed 14-of-22 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns.
After the regular-season opener, Watertown — which went 4-6 with a first-round playoff exit last year — will begin the home slate on July 19 against Glove Cities.
“I was pretty proud of the guys,” Ashcraft said. “I think overall, we’re a lot farther ahead than we were at the start of last season.”