EL PASO, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) — To say that Declan Duley is excited to play in the high school football playoffs is understating things quite a bit.

“I’m more excited on the inside than I probably show,” said Duley. “This is something I never thought would happen. I’m very blessed to say that I’ve been able to accomplish the things that I have and that this team has accomplished what they have.”

The El Paso-Gridley senior is one of the top high school kickers in the nation. Earlier this fall he committed to play at the University of Illinois next year.

He booted a school record 52-yard field goal in EPG’s win over state-ranked Tri-Valley last week. The Titans play at Farmington in a class 2A playoff game Saturday.

He may make kicking and punting look easy now but he’s only been playing competitive football for a couple of years. Duley’s sport of choice growing up was swimming.

He dreamed of championships in the pool, not on football fields. His youth swim coach was former U-High star Jake Miller, who died when he was 18 in 2015.

“He was my first coach and mentor,” Duley said. “And ultimately my best friend as well.”

Duley stays in touch with Miller’s family and says his former best friend’s battle with teen depression changed the way he approaches football. He makes mental health a priority on and off the field.

“I want to talk about it and gladly speak about it. I don’t want to hide or shy away from it,” Duley said. “It’s a real thing.”

Duley says he’s pretty sure Jake Miller would be proud of him this week. Proud of his football career, proud that he’s going to play football in college, and proud that he’s finally going to play a high school football playoff game.

“He would be proud of where I’ve come from and how much I’ve grown from the little boy he knew back at the swim meets,” said Duley. “To see what I’ve accomplished, he’d be proud.”