Matt Skura expects to feel right at home this season with the Baltimore Ravens.
The 2011 Worthington Kilbourne High School graduate is challenging to start at center, a position he played with the Wolves and during his collegiate career at Duke. Last year with the Ravens, the 6-foot-3, 313-pound Skura saw his first NFL action and started 12 games at right guard for the injured Marshal Yanda.
"You have to be ready at all times when your name is called," said Skura, who spent the 2016 season on Baltimore's practice squad. "Our center (Ryan Jensen) was a free agent who signed with Tampa Bay in the offseason. So now I'm getting another great opportunity. It's going to be an important season for me and, although I feel like I'm flexible, I'm more or less returning to my comfort position as center."
Jensen, a sixth-round draft pick in 2013, was demoted to the practice squad in 2014 and was the Ravens' backup center in 2015 and 2016 before having a breakout season last year. The Buccaneers made him the highest-paid center in the league.
"Things move fast, so you always have to be ready to go," Skura said. "I'm really excited about this season and I have added some size and muscle this year."
Skura has met all challenges with open arms. His family moved from Pittsburgh to Worthington midway through his freshman year in high school. He became a three-year letterwinner at Kilbourne and as a senior was named the 13th-best center in the nation by ESPN.com.
From 2011-15, Skura earned four letters at Duke. As a redshirt senior in 2015, he was a team captain, earned All-America honors from USA Today, Phil Steele and Sports Illustrated and made first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference. He played in 50 games for the Blue Devils, including the final 40 as a starter.
Despite that success, Skura went undrafted in 2016 before signing with the Ravens.
"Truly, I wasn't expecting to get drafted," he said. "There was hope of maybe making it in the late rounds, so there was a little letdown. But it's almost better if you don't (get drafted) because you can pick the place where you feel you can be an asset. I got several calls and we decided on Baltimore.
"My philosophy is that nothing is given to you. If you're a first-round pick, a late-round pick or go undrafted, you still have to prove your way in this world."
Skura was disappointed to not make the Baltimore roster in 2016, but was signed to the practice squad.
"That's a strange time, because it's a little bittersweet," he said. "You're disappointed that they don't feel you're good enough to be on the team, but you're happy that they like you and want to see you develop. So you put it all out there and be dependable and reliable (because) anything can happen."
It did. Yanda, a perennial Pro Bowler, fractured an ankle Sept. 17 and was lost for the season.
Skura was elevated to the roster and started the following week against Jacksonville in London. He allowed just one sack in his 12 games and missed two games with an injury.
"When he came back from injury, his first game was against the Dolphins and Ndamukong Suh, who is a really good player but has the reputation of being a very dirty player," Kilbourne coach Vince Trombetti said. "I was worried that day. But he played very well and held his own against Suh.
"Then against Pittsburgh, I saw him get a great block on James Harrison on the sweep. I love watching him play and seeing the success he's had. He's a tremendous role model for our kids and one of the hardest workers you will ever see."
Skura grew up a Steelers fan and "now they're our big rival," he said. "I was kind of pumped up to play them my first time."
Skura will be looking to prove a little more this season at center.
"This is a really good opportunity to show the coaches that I can be that leader and make the calls to direct our (offensive linemen) where to go," he said. "I think that's the biggest challenge and my biggest goal this year. I think that being on the practice squad was like being a redshirt in college. You learn and develop. It took a while to adjust to the speed and schemes of the NFL, but I think I'm ready for it now."
The Wolves will be retiring his No. 76 jersey after the 2018 season. Skura was honored in a ceremony at Kilbourne last winter.
"He's the first player from Kilbourne to play in the NFL," Trombetti said. "He is so deserving. We couldn't pick a more positive role model to honor. He's an outstanding young man and a tremendous worker. It's been exciting to follow his journey from here to Duke to the Ravens. He has overcome some obstacles but refuses to give in. He just keeps plugging away and proving himself."
Skura takes his mantle as role model seriously.
"You can't quit every time someone tells you 'no.' If you want it, you have to keep working for it," he said. "Kilbourne is a good program that has had many guys play in college, so it is an honor to be the first from Kilbourne in the NFL. I know I'm representing Kilbourne and the Worthington community and I want to make them proud.
"Central Ohio has had a lot of NFL players, but to be the first from Kilbourne is an honor and it's something I'll always cherish."