Ty Darlington has always been mature beyond his years.
I even used to call him when he was a 14-year-old freshman and I needed to get ahold of his father, Apopka head football coach Rick Darlington. The coach didn’t exactly have an affinity for cellphones five years ago. He had even lost his cellphone back then, but I got the impression he wasn’t that concerned about finding it.
Today, Rick Darlington sends text messages, and his oldest of seven children is the No. 2 center on the depth chart and nearly finished with his freshman year at the University of Oklahoma.
When star football players leave the security of their high school stomping grounds, they are often in for a rude awakening in college.
“I don’t think you ever really know what to expect,” Darlington said recently while home on spring break. “You have an idea and you hear that everyone is going to be bigger and faster, and it will be so much more complex than what you are used to.
“And it is … it’s everything they tell you and then some.”
Darlington ran around the Apopka campus as one of the biggest kids in school. At 6-foot-3, 270 pounds he was a behemoth walking the halls of AHS and his helmet usually towered over the huddle during football games.
Not any more.
“It’s a big-time adjustment from a physical standpoint. Every guy you are playing against is 6-4, 300 pounds,” he said. “Everyone there is on scholarship and there for the same reason you are. You’re not going to just go in there and manhandle people like you did in high school.”
Even technique, a Darlington strengt, was something he found he needed to hone.
“Yeah, I’ve always been a technique guy, but I wasn’t nearly as good as I thought I was,” Darlington said. “There were things I did that were completely exposed coming in and you quickly find out what you are good at and what you are not.”
He has also learned there is a lot more to worry about than just knocking down the guy in front of him.
As a coach’s son, he has always been well versed in offensive schemes from sitting around the house studying film with his father and his younger brother Zack, Apopka’s current quarterback. At OU, however, Darlington has to apply his knowledge more to situation football.
“I have to know things like looking at safety alignment, and seeing the corner’s eyes and stuff,” he said, “things that never even crossed my mind before.”
Fortunately for Darlington, learning comes easy. He was Valedictorian of his class at Apopka in 2012.
“You’re making all the calls up front, especially with the way we are doing it now with Coach Bedenbaugh, our new offensive line coach,” Darlington said of Bill Bedenbaugh, who came over this winter from West Virginia. “There is a lot more responsibility on the center. You really gotta know what you are doing and it takes a lot of film study and a lot of outside work.”
Darlington went into his Sooner career knowing there was plenty of talent ahead of him. All-Big 12 center Ben Habern, however, didn’t make his senior season, his career cut short by lingering back issues requiring neck surgery. OU moved talented, All-Big 12 guard Gabe Ikard over to fill, but a concussion forced head coach Bob Stoops to put Darlington on the field for his first start against Baylor in November.
“All the guys I was working with this year have been great. It’s a pedigree at center at OU,” Darlington said. “There are a lot of starts and a lot of awards among the guys teaching me what to do here.
“For me, the coolest moment was probably the first game running out on the field and the crowd chanting ‘Boomer Sooner’. For my first start, I was so focused on the football part of it I couldn’t afford to be wide-eyed and staring at the bright lights.”
He’ll be back on the field Saturday at the Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for the Sooners’ annual spring game.
“I have so many things I want to work on and so many things I have to do to get better,” said Darlington, who earned a place on the All-Big 12 Freshman Team for 2012. “Things have so far worked out the way I dreamed they would, but I just have to go out and get better every day.”
And who knows, the NFL could be on the horizon.
“I’m focused on fulfilling my potential and being the best I can be,” Darlington said. “If I feel like I am as good as I can be and I don’t make it, then I don’t make it. It’s all about doing the best I can do with my God-given talent.”
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.
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