When head coach Todd Graham first arrived last year, he came up with the idea to give out a Pat Tillman practice jersey to the hardest working player both on the field and off. On Sunday, Alden Darby showed up to practice wearing the camouflaged #42 jersey for the third time in his Sun Devil career, a testament to his effort and leadership that have seemingly been on constant display ever since last season.
“It’s a great honor, like I always say it just means hard work doesn’t go unseen,” Darby said. “I’m a guy that’s passionate and loves to come to work everyday. I love doing this, so I’m just glad to be recognized for it.”
Even before being awarded the camouflage jersey for the very first time, Darby stuck out at practice like a sore thumb. Every session, he’s the loudest, hustles the hardest and is constantly encouraging his teammates. In the early part of fall camp when the newcomers had a separate practice than the veterans, Darby was there, coaching up the freshmen defensive backs. He personally feels responsible for their development as players and people.
“They look up to us; we set the path for the young guys,” Darby said. “We set the tradition here. If we leave a bad example they are going to follow a bad example. So if I don’t leave here with a hard work ethic and a DB/corner who’s going to work at his highest potential every day, that’s like cancer, they’re going to follow along.”
Graham and the media alike for the past two years have showered Darby with heaps of praise for his leadership and attitude towards the program, but what has gone somewhat unnoticed at times was his play on the field; though it doesn’t seem to bother him all that much.
“People always talk about my leadership and they like that,” Darby commented. “It’s like getting a sport scholarship versus an academic scholarship; I would rather get the academic than the sports. I would rather be recognized as being a great leader and a guy that has great passion rather than just a guy that balled out and didn’t have any leadership.”
Truth of the matter is that Darby does indeed excel on the field. Along with former Sun Devil safety Keelan Johnson, Darby was a key cog on the nation’s third best pass defense in 2012. Now with Johnson playing in the NFL, the field safety spot that he vacated has been a concern for this defense throughout the offseason.
Graham will tell you that the safeties are in essence the quarterbacks of the defense. Thus, not have both of those positions completely settled with just ten days prior to the season opener is cause for concern. Yet, Darby is confident in his teammates’ abilities.
“I’m not worried about the free safety; we’ve got guys that can play well,” Darby explained. “Laiu [Moeakiola], Robert Nelson and Damarious Randall (who has yet to practice this preseason due to an groin injury); those guys know it and can play it very well so I’m not worried about it too much.”
When asked if he feels any more weight riding on his performance this year due to the unknown at the spot next to him, Darby responded by saying that he feels more pressure because it’s his last year as a Sun Devil. He’s a senior and he knows that he won’t be able to get any of it back.
However, even with that added pressure, Darby is ready to accept the challenge and has some pretty lofty goals that he’s set for himself for the 2013 season.
“What I do have on my mirror is to be so good that they can’t ignore me,” Darby stated. “That’s the underdog mentality that I have and I just want to play every snap and I want to be the Pac-12 defensive player of the year, Jim Thorpe award winner, Ronnie Lott award winner, first team All-American, first team all Pac-12, everything…I want to do it.”
Darby feels that he’s flied under the radar of the national scope for most of his career, but he knows that with success, comes recognition.
“It all has to do with winning,” Darby explained. “Whoever is winning is going to get the most looks, regardless of whose stats are better.”
The buzz surrounding this 2013 Arizona State team with returning players like Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, Marion Grice and Darby himself certainly has the Sun Devils back in the national eye. NFL scouts have taken notice and have been in attendance sporadically throughout fall camp, even making the trek up to Camp Tontozona some 100 miles away from the Tempe campus.
That exposure can only help the safety in his quest to put on an NFL uniform, something that has always been a dream for Darby.
“That’s been my goal since I was six years old,” Darby said. “Playing at the next level is everything. I’ve always known that I’m going to be successful in life regardless, whether it’s playing at the next level or working in the business world. But, I’d give anything to play at the next level.”
Regardless of whether or not he gets to play on Sundays, Darby hopes he can leave a lasting mark on the Arizona State program.
“I want to be remembered as one of the best safeties to ever play here,” Darby said.