Nebraska stops by to see Darlington

Last year Zack Darlington was getting credit for a gritty performance on the field in the playoffs with an injury. This year it's more the same, but this time it's not on the field.

Zack Darlington didn't think that the day would ever come when he'd be on his way to college. He's just a month away now and he admits that last year's state championship game feels like it was a day ago.

"It's gone by so fast," Darlington said. "You really don't realize how fast it goes anyway and I am a half-way guy. It's no joke.

"It seems just like yesterday that I was strapping up in the Citrus Bowl and we are practicing again to play this Saturday. It's just crazy how fast the year has gone by."

Apopka (Flor.) won the state final led by a gutsy performance by the junior signal caller. This year, Darlington suffered a concussion in the first game and missed the rest of the season. The team will play for a chance to go back-to-back and that's saying a lot about a team being able to make up for such a loss.

"This weekend is the state final. We can go back-to-back. All through the year we talked about when someone went down that someone had to step up. I never would have thought that I was going to be the guy to go down.

"The moment I went down we started to change everything. We changed the offense, the package and how we did everything. People didn't think that we could win not being able to throw. We thought we would be so good running the ball that teams couldn't stay on the field with us.

"Teams practice all summer and they do their seven on seven and passing drills. Then they get to play against us and we play ball so different than they have prepared. We trained like gladiators. It's really paid off."

There is a real camaraderie among the players at Apopka on and off the field. Darlington says that much of the team meets for Bible study including an almost double-digit turnout on Thanksgiving Day when many would rather just be with family, indulge and watch some football.

"We are not just a team on the field and kids that hang out together on the weekends. We had a Bible study with 30 to 35 kids. On Thanksgiving Day we had a study and had nine kids show up on a holiday.

"We are all so close. We all decided that we were fighting for one thing. That one thing people think is a football game, but it's really to glorify God. We love playing football and it's really just our way of thanking Him."

Nebraska has been by to see Darlington for an in-home visit twice so far. He was visited a week ago by the head coach and this past week it was two assistant coaches.

"Coach Bo Pelini came last Tuesday for an in-home. He wanted to come around to talk about his job security. I wasn't worried about it. I called Coach Bo and Coach Beck about it. I am close with that staff.

"I recruit my heart out for that staff to get other players to come and join our family in Nebraska. The staff was really hitting all of the recruits and commits to talk with everyone about the job security.

"Coach Tim Beck and Coach Ron Brown were here last night and that was great. They were heading over to see Brandon Powell today. They are making their rounds."

Darlington isn't sure if he will host the Nebraska staff again before he gets to Lincoln. The time between now and then is tight with holidays and Darlington going to an All-American game.

"I leave for the Semper Fidelis All-American game on December 30th and I think that I get back here around January 7th. I am leaving for Lincoln on January 10th.

"I won't play in the game. When I had my injury they told me they were going to fly me out and make sure that I am part of that experience. It says a lot about the Marines and that event."

Many have wondered how Zack is doing following the concussion. He had developed a stutter, but it wasn't noticeable at all while doing this interview. He says he's the only one who notices anything now and he will be cleared to play spring ball in Lincoln in just a few short months.

"Therapy is going great," Darlington said. "I go about once a week and everything is going well. I don't stutter much at all anymore. I am usually the only one that can tell and I am still self-conscious about it.

"The plan with spring is to go there and fight for a job. I will be cleared to play. I will be about nine months out from the injury and I will be there looking for a job and ready to go."

Yes, Darlington will have a chance to compete for the spot this spring. The question will be with how much contact? That will be under some watchful eyes by one of the best concussion specialists in the world.

Darlington didn't want to miss any time this year and he ended up missing almost all of it on the field. Off the field though he's prepared his team. When he couldn't lead them on the field in the game he's led them to prepare for the challenge as best he could while in practice as he tried to improve himself.

"The contact thing will come down to Coach Bo, Coach Beck and my parents. They will be in touch with my brain doctor and what he thinks. The doctor that is monitoring my concussion is Dr. Semyon Slobounov, Ph.D. from Penn State. He is the concussion specialist that is helping me out.

"I wish I was playing this Saturday. I wouldn't have sat out a game if didn't have to. I just can't wait to get out there and finally compete. I go to practice everyday -- helmet, shorts, shoulder pads and cleats -- and I throw.

"I throw skeleton, perimeter tackle, scout defense and scout offense. I throw all of it. I am just working on pocket presence and I am hoping that I have been able to increase my skill level with my time here. Hopefully I have been using my time to make myself better because that has been my intention every day."

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Bryan Munson has worked with Big Red Report for 12 years covering recruiting and football and has covered Nebraska recruiting for 14 years.
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