Darby will take the field for his first collegiate game this Saturday against Portland
State. The true freshman has spent fall camp preparing for the season opener and ultimately earning his rank on the Sun Devil defense.
“I’m real excited and nervous,” Darby admitted. “ Not nervous about my assignments and everything like that, just nervous because it’s my first college game. I’m really excited, really excited to be playing as a true freshman in this atmosphere as a division one football player.”
Despite expecting to redshirt the 2010 season, Darby has found himself under much different circumstances and is now gearing up to take the field at Sun Devil Stadium as a true freshman. With many obstacles in his way throughout the years, Darby’s strength and dedication to the game has only yielded positive results.
“It kind of was a surprise,” Darby said. “But, then it wasn’t because I knew coming out of high school that the ability that I had and I knew that if I put in the work, that I knew I would put in, I would be able to play. It was a surprise because the media and the newspapers thought that because of my grades, everybody thought I was going to redshirt but in my mind, I knew I would be able to play division one football as a true freshman.
“I always knew that, I just had to put in the work to make it happen.”
The 2010 Millikan Senior High School graduate arrived at ASU in time to being fall camp and like the rest of the freshman group, immediately began adjusting to their new environment. The change of pace from high school to college is one element that caught Darby off guard, but is also one in which he as excelled.
“The speed, of course,” Darby noted. “Learning. There’s a big difference in learning the plays and stuff like that, its not like high school when one color means the whole defense, you have to learn responsibility and who holds the field and things like that. Speed, its fast, this game is fast. It’s not like you can take a play off or make a check late because you’ve got to make it right away.”
Darby, who as s senior led Millikan in passing and rushing and ranked third on the team in receiving, began fall camp as a member of the cornerbacks group, a unit that has the most depth ASU has seen in years. As camp progressed, the cornerback was moved to safety, a position in which he had experience, but quickly learned it would be more of an adjustment than he initially thought.
“It’s been tough,” Darby stated. “Its been real hard because when I was at corner it was easier and a lot simpler and at corner it was just a lot more footwork type of things, I knew how to press, I knew how to get deep and things like that, its just a lot of footwork. But when I transferred to safety, it was like I had to learn a whole new position. It was hard. And now I have to know a lot of run-fits and checks and all types of things so it’s tough.”
As a unit, the Sun Devil defense was ready to step in a help Darby on and off the field in order to prepare the true freshman for the upcoming game day. With the confidence and encouragement of his teammates, a few in particular, Darby was able to thrive at this new assignment.
“Yeah, there have been a couple of players that have helped me,” Darby noted. “Omar (Bolden), Deveron (Carr), Clint (Floyd), Keelan (Johnson), Max (Tabach), almost all the defense because they know my ability and that I can play with them so they just want to make sure that I am up to par and everything like that and ready for Saturday.”
Struggling throughout high school to maintain the academic standards to play collegiate football, Darby spent nearly his entire senior year getting back on track. Taking more classes than any other senior in his high school, Darby was committed to earning his spot as a Sun Devil.
“When they were first recruiting me,” Darby recollected. “I was missing four core classes to be eligible to play division one football so I had to drop a lot of classes and I ended up taking nine classes my senior year. I had to drop my two football classes for working out and I lost a lot of free time and I was coming to school at like 6 in the morning to do work and I was the only senior there on the last day of school doing work.
“I took nine classes my senior year, I didn’t have a senior year, and so it was tough.
“But the way I see it now, it’s hard to fail. The way the system is set up, as much studying as they make you do, it’s hard to fail. It kind of feels easier to me because I do my homework now without anybody telling me. Now I feel like I’m grounded, as far as school work wise and I feel like I know why I’m here and what I’ve got to do to stay here, so it’s easier.”
After being bypassed by other schools due to his academic situation, Darby was losing confidence in the idea of leaving his hometown of Long Beach, Calif. until the call came from Arizona State.
“It was a great feeling,” Darby recalled. “I had a lot of schools on me but with my grades a lot of schools dropped off. I was down, I was sad some nights, I was real sad and thinking I might not make it out and I don’t know what I’m going to do.
“Then ASU came along, they called me early in the morning and said they wanted me bad and they would do anything in their power to get me and I just put a smile on my face. Ever since that day I was just smiling, I knew whatever it takes; I’m going to do it. I was blessed and I’m really grateful for them coming along, and I’m just happy.”
Growing up in under unfortunate circumstances, Darby spent the majority of his life with his parents coming and going from jail, while living in one of the most difficult neighborhoods in Long Beach. Despite the struggles in his family life, Darby was even more determined to remain focused on reaching his goals by staying out of trouble and occupied with sports.
“It’s been rough my entire life but the term I like to use is the light at the end of the tunnel,” Darby said. “I was surrounded by a lot of darkness and a lot of bad things but I always knew that there would be light at the end of the tunnel for me. I could always see that light, it wasn’t bright but I always saw a little bit of the light and I always said, ‘that’s where I’ve got to go, that’s what I’ve got to get.’
“Whatever happens in my life, I know I’ve got to stay on that straight path, away from drugs, away from all the bad things. Football kind of kept me grounded; well it did keep me grounded. Football and basketball and running track all kept my grounded, it took away my free time and everything like that. I just kept my eye on that light that I see.”
Without a stable home environment, Darby found refuge in his stepdad. Having such a positive role model and teacher in his life has undoubtedly helped and encouraged him get where he is today, on and off the field.
“My stepdad, Eric, coached me since I was 7-years-old in football,” Darby said. “He always told me ‘we’ll make it big one day just stay focused’ and everything like that. He took me in and I lived with him a lot of my life and he just coached me every single day coming home from school. My stepdad, my coaches, my aunties, and my sisters too, they love me so they always shot me straight.”
Despite his trials and tribulations so early in life, the young athlete has much to look forward to in the coming years. Beginning his freshman season as a Sun Devil, and knowing in his mind that he is one step closer to fulfilling his dreams, Darby is at a point in his life where he is thriving.
“I’m happy,” Darby admitted. “I’m happy and I know everybody back home is proud of me and everybody that knows me and had read my stories or seen my stories, I know they’re happy for me too and that just makes me happy.
“Coming from a rough life and a rough background, I think I’m kind of motivation for a lot of people out there to see that no matter what you can still do it, you can get where I’m at, and don’t let anything stop you.”