Pleasant surprise

Playing well from beginning to end, tailback Kenneth Darby had an excellent spring. <br><br>"I expected to do well on the field, so I'm really not surprised at how I performed," he explained. "But to tell you the truth I didn't expect to get the notice I got."

Senior Shaud Williams and junior Ray Hudson played well, too, so Darby knows he'll have to share the ball next fall. But he clearly finished spring as one of Bama's rising stars.

"It was a big spring for me," Kenneth Darby acknowledged. "It felt like it went by fast. It went better than expected. I didn't expect to get my name out there that fast. That threw me off a little bit. That caught me by surprise."

Darby in his stance last fall. NOTE: he's worked in the #33 jersey since arriving on campus, but expect him to wear #34 next season.

Darby's spring performance certainly didn't escape the attention of Bama's new coaches.

"He's a good one," Running Backs Coach Kasey Dunn said. "There's no question Kenneth had a great spring. I love that kid. He's good; he's real special.

"We'll get some great things out of him before it's all said and done."

For a redshirt freshman hoping to earn playing time, a coaching turnover can actually be a good thing. Veterans and youngsters start off together, with every athlete getting an even chance to impress.

Darby explained, "With a new staff it doesn't matter what's happened in the past. You've got to show them what you've got right here and right now. They want to see what you can do at this moment."

The top tailback prospect in the state in 2002 when he signed with the Tide, Darby clearly has talent. But it's been over a year since he ran the football on Saturdays. However, this redshirt freshman doesn't feel any pressure.

"Here's the way I look at it," Darby related. "If I can do okay against our defense, which was ranked among the best in the nation last year--and still is a great unit… If I can do good against them, then I'm not worried about other teams we play. If I can do good against our defense, then I'll do alright next year."

Running behind the second-string offensive line and running against the first-string defense, Darby took his lumps during the A-Day scrimmage. For the day he gained 20 yards while losing 12, netting eight. But during earlier scrimmage work in the spring, whenever he had an even chance he ran as well as any Tide back on the squad.

"He's definitely one of my better guys in the open field," Dunn said. "Kenneth will make you miss. He's got great ‘shake' and lateral mobility. And he's got good speed, too. He can run over you. He can run around you."

In addition to running the football, Darby has improved his blitz pick-up this spring. "It's not easy," he said. "There's a lot of technique you've got to learn. Coach Dunn is a good teacher. You really don't have to be big to pick up the blitz. You've got to be smart to know what to do when a bigger man is coming at you."

Working to become a complete back, Darby has also improved catching the football. "I think I've got good hands," he said. "I've been working to perfect my receiving. You can always be better than what you are.

"I'm getting to the point where I can be a complete back."

A compact, powerful runner with excellent speed as well, Darby is difficult to bring down one-on-one.

"I think just about everything Kenneth does is a strength," Dunn said. "He's a good pass protector. He can do a lot of things. He's a really special player."

Darby and Dunn spent a lot of time together on and off the field this spring, talking about his future. "I can't ask for a better coach," Darby said. "He's taught me a lot. He gets on my case to let me know what I've got to do to get better. I can't ask for a better coach. If he was in the movies, I'd give him two thumbs up."

Williams, Hudson, Santonio Beard and Ahmaad Galloway all worked ahead of him last season, so Darby took a redshirt his first year on campus. At the time it was frustrating, but he has no regrets now. "That was definitely my best move," Darby acknowledged. "I wanted to come in here my first year and play. I was young and wanted to go out and show what I could do, but I learned a lot. I think it was the best thing for me. It helped me out a lot.

With four full years of eligibility left, both Darby and his new coaches are happy he sat out.

"He's the kind of guy we're looking for," Dunn said of Darby. "We're looking for (backs at) 6-0, 225 pounds--right around there--but with good speed. Your tailback has got to be able to snap it off for 80 yards and go. He can do that.

"We're real excited about Kenneth Darby."

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