By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
NORMAN — —
Ty Darlington wasn’t too nervous when he found out Thursday he would be starting in place for injured Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard against Baylor Saturday.
“It was more excitement than anything else,’’ the true freshman said after the Sooners’ 42-34 victory over the Bears. “This is what I have dreamed of doing. I wanted to come here and be an Oklahoma Sooner for a long time.’’
Darlington’s mother was a cheerleader at OU in the 1980s. The Apopka, Fla., native had numerous relatives who were OU grads. His father was his high school coach.
The only negatives for Darlington on the day were two premature snaps which OU was penalized for.
The Sooners in the “Belldozer’’ package on both plays, and Darlington said he had trouble hearing backup quarterback Blake Bell.
“I have to correct that and move on; hopefully that won’t happen again,’’ Darlington said. “I have to keep pushing past that, and not think about it and move on to the next play. I felt I did pretty well.’’
Darlington had taken all the snaps throughout the week. He thought Ikard, who had a concussion, might be able to play until Thursday, when doctors declared the junior center out.
Ikard was Darlington’s “personal coach’’ for the week, giving him tips on the “little things.’’ Graduate assistant Jon Cooper, another former OU standout center, stayed after practice with him. The duo watched extra film together.
“I was ready to go,’’ he said.
Darlington, though, had long been ready. He watched films closely and carefully studied his play sheet.
“That’s the first step, working hard during practice and pushing it,’’ he said. “I had a good background being a coach’s son. I made sure I was ready to play mentally, and I physically worked very hard before I go there to get big enough and strong enough to play.’’
He didn’t blame the snap confusion on Bell having a different cadence than starting quarterback Landry Jones.
“I just couldn’t pick out his voice,’’ Darlington said. “Those infractions really bothered me. I’ve always been hard in critiquing myself. I got to remember that I am a freshman and I’m going to get better. I try not to beat myself down too much. I’m blocking guys who are a lot bigger and stronger than I did in high school. There’s a lot more people in the stands. It’s a lot more of a hectic environment.’’
Darlington always dealt with the high expectations expected from a coach’s son.
“I’m a little bit that way with anything in my life,’’ Darlington said. “I’m a perfectionist. That can be a great trait, but it can be a bad thing at times.
“I wouldn’t say it was hard being a coach’s son. Other people thought it was hard. Obviously, more is expected out of me, but we expect more out of ourselves.’’
Darlington’s academic numbers might have exceeded his football glory (two-time All-State center in Florida and rated the No. 2 center nationally by ESPN).
He was valedictorian of his class with a 5.1 weighed GPA. He had a 33 on his ACT and a 2,060 on his SAT.
So having the responsibility of calling the blocking assignments might not have been all that difficult.
“You have to be demonstrative as a center,’’ Darlington said. “You have to make sure all the IDs would be loud.’’
Darlington has developed a strong bond with Jones, who had encouraged him throughout the week. Both shared a strong spiritual belief.
“Having the faith of the quarterback you’re snapping the ball to is a big deal,’’ Darlington said. “He was awesome during the week. He was encouraging me, saying I was made for this and I could do it.’’
“I didn’t have any concern about Ty,’’ Jones said. “Ty is a smart kid and extremely gifted.’’
Darlington was wearing eight wrist bands of his favorite Bible verses. He said he draws strength from them.
“I know going on the field, I may mess up or I might not be big enough or strong enough to go against some of the other guys I’m going against, but I continue to bounce back and rely on God,’’ he said.
He wears one verse (Proverbs 17:17) about “being your brother’s keeper and just being accountable for each other.’’ That’s been significant in a season where OU has had to go with a rebuilt offensive line.
“We’re banged up and we have had to do a lot of re-shuffling, but everyone is stepping up,’’ Darlington said.