I used to despise bloggers. That is probably not the ideal way to start a blog, but the true intent of this blog is transparency and honesty, so there you go. I am a bit of a cynic, and I have always thought of bloggers as self-important. What makes you such an expert on this topic? Why should I want to know what you have to say? These are questions that I’ve retorted inwardly as I’ve seen blogs pop up on my Twitter timeline (I apologize to bloggers everywhere for my cynicism). To be clear, I do not consider myself any more credible or important than those I used to criticize, I now just understand where they were coming from. Here I am, starting my own blog, and I’m sitting here asking myself the same question you probably are right now: “Why?”
It starts with heartbreak. Just over a week ago, my career as an Oklahoma Sooners football player ended with a disappointing 37-17 loss to the Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff Semifinal matchup in the Orange Bowl. I wasn’t ready to be done. I had one more game to play. But as the tears streamed down my face, smearing my eyeblack all over, the finality of those zeroes on the scoreboard set in: It’s over. Fast forward 12 hours and I’m doing about 80 on the Florida Turnpike headed north, riding shotgun next to my mom as we make our way back to Apopka, FL (my home). For most of the ride, I stare out the window and reflect on my time as a Sooner. The highs. The lows. The wins. The losses. The friendships. The memories. Then my gaze shifts to the road ahead. What now?
Over the next few months, my life will look very different. I have the time to pursue interests and develop skills in areas that were previously neglected in favor of football. Over the last year, I have gotten involved in a variety of different organizations and situations that have shaped me as a person and enriched my experience greatly. From FCA opportunities to the SAE crisis to NCAA student-athlete representation, I have participated in a variety of arenas that transcend my on-field performance. In that time, I have also had a significant amount of interaction with the media. I have noticed that, over the past year, I have been asked more non-football questions than football questions. Of course, I have gotten my fair share of “Why couldn’t we run the ball against Texas?” type of questions, but I have also gotten the more thought-provoking “What needs to change in college athletics?” and “What does your stand in the spring say about the power that student-athletes hold?” The latter type of questions evoke passion and intrigue in me that the former type do not. I have an opinion on a variety of topics, and I enjoy discussing these topics with whomever will listen. As much as I’ve enjoyed these discussions, I’ve also been increasingly frustrated reading articles in which I was quoted, feeling that the two-line quote that was inserted did not effectively capture the essence of my intended response. This is in no way a dig at the journalists I have spoken with, for I am very appreciative of what they do. But I feel as if a small, incomplete snapshot of my views have been used to support the views of someone else.
I feel as though I have been confined, both by the questions that I am asked and by the role that I have played as a representative of the University of Oklahoma. As a representative of the University that I love dearly, I have always considered that I am not merely representing myself and my own opinions. There have been certain topics I have avoided, and questions I have averted, in an effort to maintain my integrity as an unofficial ambassador of the University of Oklahoma and its football program. This is not to say that I disagree with the University on any sensitive topic, just that I have tried to withhold my views completely because some may confuse my opinions with the official stance of those above me. But now, I have the freedom to speak my mind not as “Oklahoma Team Captain” or “Oklahoma Center,” but as “Ty Darlington.” I have long championed the power of the platform we have as student-athletes, and I have pursued every opportunity to exploit my influence for good. But, to this point, my platform has been that of “Oklahoma football player.” But now, as I begin my transition, I have not even begun to tap into my own individual platform, influence, and voice as Ty Darlington. Not Ty the center, Ty the Captain, Ty the FCA president, nor Ty the Big 12 SAAC Chair. Just Ty: the conscientious human being that has a voice worth hearing.
The media has the crucial role of acting as a microphone to project the voices of athletes that may not be able to articulate views the way they would like to. But not all of us need a microphone, and my voice rings loud and clear. So when I attempt to answer “Why Blog?”, I can succinctly reply with a line from Ice Cube: “I got somethin’ to say.”
WHAT TO TALK ABOUT?
Anyone that knows me knows that I don’t do things without a considerable amount of thought and planning. So when the blogging ball started rolling around my head, I immediately began to consider what the topics are that I should talk about. Above all else, I want this to be real. I want to engage people on a variety topics without the convoluted, political, don’t-step-on-any-toes type of language. My greatest desire is to depict an honest, accurate representation of someone that enjoyed a full spectrum of experiences as a collegiate athlete. I want to be able to talk about the touchy subjects that everyone wants to avoid, and I also want to converse on the meaningful topics that no one thinks to ask about. I know that my platform is sports, and that is what I know well enough to write about. But, eventually, I would like to move beyond the bounds of the sports world and examine other situations, real life issues in our world today. But for now, I have several specific topics that I would like to address in the coming months.
I believe I could possibly separate potential topics into categories: current issues in college athletics, controversial situations, and off-field experiences that have shaped my collegiate experience. Current issues I would like to cover include pay for play, the concussion crisis, and the growing power of the student-athlete voice (i.e. SAE, Mizzou). When I say “controversial situations”, I am primarily referring to the SAE incident in the spring of 2015, and Joe Mixon and his incident from the summer of 2014. Over time, I feel as if I have not gotten to truly articulate my opinions and feelings from these events. I have averted certain questions in the interest of the team and the University. But now I can speak for myself and only myself. Lastly, I want tell the world in my own words what made being a Sooner the best experience of my life. Haiti. The Children’s Hospital. McKenzie Horton, Brandy Simpson, and their family. No Instagram post can effectively convey the place these experiences and people have in my heart. To some, they are but a footnote; a reference used to prove that the beloved Sooners football team might actually have some pretty good guys on it. Those experiences should never be overshadowed by any win, championship, banner, or ring. I want to tell those stories.
But I want to know what you want to hear about! If there is any particular question regarding one of the topics I mentioned, or if you have a completely different topic you would like me to consider, direct message me on Twitter and tell me! I would love to hear your feedback!
Now that I am done with my collegiate football career, I feel like so many people want to know “What now?” My situation is a little bit different than your typical college football player. I have had a decent amount of on the field success and recognition, but my off the field accolades have far overshadowed my athletic performance. So I’m here to answer those questions about both my immediate future and my long term plans.
When I was in 6th grade, I created an AOL Instant Messaging (AIM) account under the username “Darter079.” Why is this significant? The password. NFLDRAFT2016. I typed that password out day after day after day for years and years. Heck, if I tried to go log on right now that might still work (I just might do that). I’ve spoken at length about my dream of being an Oklahoma Sooner. While it is true that I always dreamed of being a Sooner, the University of Oklahoma was intended to be a stop on the journey, not the final destination. The ultimate goal was to play in the National Football League. In fourth grade, I woke myself up for 6 AM offseason workouts with my dad’s high school team. By fifth grade, I added in the summer workouts as well. When it came time for middle school, I started watching the NFL combine and duplicating each and every drill performed there in my front yard, at the high school game field, or even on the sidewalk next to the electrical box at my middle school where I used to wait for my dad to pick me up in his 1987 Jeep Wrangler. I was a crazy little kid with a dream.
So now that one stop along that dream tour is over, it’s now time to push for the final goal: playing in the National Football League. I know that it will not be an easy road for me. At a very young age, I realized that I wasn’t an elite talent. So I made up my mind to work harder than everyone else to maximize the physical gifts I did have, and then overcome the talent deficit with toughness, intangibles, and intelligence. That has been my gameplan for over 10 years, and it hasn’t failed me yet. But the NFL presents a new challenge. Bigger, stronger, faster athletes. I know what people will say about me. Too short. Too light. Too stiff. Short arms. Skinny legs. The list goes on (the hypercritical nature of the business is all but required for the money invested in professional athletes). But I am going to pursue this dream with everything I have. I will not let my own tendency to dream small and think rationally limit the omnipotence of the God I serve. So for now, it’s all in for the NFL! But what comes after that?
On June 1, 2012, I was dressed in my royal blue graduation cap and gown with a golden staff in my hand denoting my title as “Outstanding Senior” (picture a cross between Papa Smurf and Gandalf). The next day, I was set to begin my journey to the University of Oklahoma to start a new chapter. But on that day, my responsibility was to deliver the valedictorian address for the Apopka High School graduating class of 2012. As I prepared to begin the procession into the arena, I shared a few words with a family friend that was a district superintendent of the school. What advice did he have to give me as I began to chart my course? “Don’t be a coach,” he laughed. “Be a doctor or a lawyer or something.” I wholeheartedly agreed with him. To that point, I had focused only on school and football. I had taken just about every AP class the school had to offer, scored very high on the ACT and SAT with minimal preparation, and considered myself somewhat of an “academic.” I felt like I owed it to the world to do something “important” with the considerable gifts I had been given. Football was fun to play for now, but I did not consider it significant enough to devote my entire life to.
So with that mindset, I set out to the University of Oklahoma to major in Health and Exercise Science with the intention of going to either physical therapy school or medical school upon the completion of my football career. About a year into this program, I had an epiphany: I cannot do this with my life. In that year or so, I had excelled in the classroom, and I had done a bit of shadowing. But I realized that I could not do this on a daily basis. I was good at it, but I didn’t love it. So what do I love? I love football and I love people. Around that time, my perception of coaching in general changed greatly. I have always valued coaches and believed in the impact they can make on the lives of young athletes, but up until that point, I did not perceive coaching to present a formidable challenge intellectually.
Coach Bill Bedenbaugh absolutely demolished my previous perceptions upon his arrival. Under his tutelage, my eyes were opened to just how complex the game of football can be. Coach B teaches the game in the most intricate details. Not just formations, fronts, blitzes, and coverages, but also DL foot stagger, body demeanor, and eye placement. The offensive lineman often imitate Coach B by asking questions like “In the 3rd quarter of the 6th game of 2013, #94 had a piece of gum just above the Nike logo on his left shoe. Knowing that, what blitz should we expect?” That’s obvious hyperbole, but it does display the incredible attention to detail that he coaches with. Being exposed to that side of the game was what made me fall in love with it. I realized that to excel in coaching at the highest level, intelligence and people skills are not optional, but absolutely paramount.
Beyond the X’s and O’s, I want to coach football to make a difference. A coach has an influence on a young man’s life that can only be rivaled by a father. With so many athletes coming from single parent homes, a coach often times has to even take on the role of father. While I am a very competitive, excellence-driven individual, making a difference in the lives of people is far more important to me than anything that might take place on a football field or be denoted on a scoreboard. For me, coaching provides the unique opportunity to make a daily impact on the lives of young people, compete for excellence in the game I love, and be challenged intellectually. So, whenever I am done playing football, that is the path I will pursue, most likely at the college level. Down the road, I would also be interested in getting involved in athletic administration, but to start I will pursue coaching and see what God has for me there.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading! I am figuring this out as I go, so bear with me! In the future, my blog posts will focus much less on myself and instead on the subject at hand. For the purpose of this entry, I felt the need to explain the “Why” and the “What”, as well as my future plans. Again, if you have any questions or suggestions, let me know! Hoka hey and Boomer Sooner!