His mind wasn’t on football
Darby says off-field distractions hurt his performance for Tide in ’06
By Bradley Handwerger
MOBILE — Ken Darby didn’t want to make excuses.
All he wanted to do was help his Alabama teammates do the best they could do.
Now, in a weeklong interview process with NFL teams at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Darby finally is talking.
Talking about his nagging injuries that hampered him throughout a sub-par senior year.
But more importantly, talking about what he and his family went through beginning in the summer and culminating Nov. 20.
Darby’s father, Winston Woods, diagnosed with lung cancer in the summer, died that November day.
His teammates knew about Darby’s father. So did his coaches. And that’s as far as he wanted it to go, at least at the time.
“Even when I went into this past season, my mind wasn’t on football,” said Darby, a Huntsville native. “I told my coaches that. My mind and heart weren’t with it. I was just so off the field, concerned with my father and my mother’s well being.
“I wasn’t thinking about football. I was thinking about how they were doing at home.”
Nevertheless, Darby played through the season, despite a heavy heart and a wandering mind.
That alone gained him respect — albeit respect he already had — from teammates.
“Lot of respect,” said Alabama teammate and fellow Senior Bowl invitee Le’Ron McClain, a fullback. “I look at Kenny, he’s like a big brother to me. When he was down, I was right there with him, just telling him I got his back.
“I look up to him. He’s a big man. If I had had something like that happen to me, I don’t know what I’d do.”
And so here Darby is, nearly three weeks after Alabama lost in the Independence Bowl to Oklahoma State to cap a 6-7 season, another long year for the Crimson Tide.
Darby finished with 835 rushing yards and no rushing touchdowns his senior year. For his career, he ended with 3,324 yards — only the third Alabama player to surpass 3,000 yards — and 11 touchdowns.
Oh, and he also has graduated with a degree in communications, fulfilling his father’s dream for him. Anything that he accomplishes from here on out is dedicated to his father.
“Everything I’m achieving right now is everything he wanted me to have,” Darby said. “He wanted me to graduate from college, which I did, but he wasn’t there. That was an emotional moment for me right there, just not seeing him there.”
But he still has a lot to prove, especially after the down year.
Charles Davis, an analyst with the NFL Network who also has logged time calling SEC games for Jefferson Pilot Sports, said Darby is going to have to impress NFL teams with his work ethic in practice this week and NFL scouting combine numbers.
“I think for him, that stopwatch and measurements, he’s going to have to prove some things,” said Davis, who played four years at Tennessee from 1983-86. “What’s the watch going to say on his speed and quickness? How’s he going to measure out?”
However, regardless of the times, Davis said he expects Darby’s pedigree to help him out.
“Anyone who can produce the kind of numbers he has in the SEC over that time, is going to get a long look,” Davis said. “The SEC is well-respected.
What else is respected is the program.”
What could help Darby this week is emotion. He’s out to prove all of his doubters wrong.
“I have to prove that even though I didn’t have the breakout year that everybody thought I should have, the breakout year I thought I would have, that nothing has changed,” Darby said. “I’m still the same guy people thought I was.”
Even with the year Darby had, he has a chance to succeed.
He has worked out since the season, dropping 10 pounds, nearing his playing weight from his junior year. He also has a chance to work his way up NFL teams’ draft boards.
For that, he can thank his dad.
“I think he’ll watch over me wherever he is,” Darby said. “He’s like my guardian angel. He helps me do my part, even when I don’t feel like doing it.”
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