Practice Tour: Darien Rankin

SALISBURY, N.C. --- Darien Rankin has drawn the best praise possible - from his opponents.

"To put [Rankin] in a nutshell, Chris Norman at Shelby, his comment about Darien right before we played them in the playoffs was 'Coach, if he's not a Division I prospect, there's not one in the state of North Carolina,'" Salisbury head football coach Joe Pinyan said. "Sam Young at West Rowan, his comment was 'You've got to account for Darien Rankin on the field and for that reason, Darien's the best football player in Rowan County' - those were his exact words.

"[Rankin] can make so many great plays. He's very, very athletic. His hips are very explosive - he's a 6-8 high jumper in track… He's going to make plays all over the field. He wows you with the plays that he makes."

To put those comments in prospect: Norman has won three State Championships at Shelby since 1998 and Young's West Rowan squad hasn't lost a football game in almost two years and is the reigning back-to-back NCHSAA 3A Champion. Both Norman and Young have had several players sign with BCS schools.

So why did Rankin, a 5-foot-11, 179-pound athlete, lack the recruiting attention of others?

"It's real simple," Pinyan said. "You put Darien on the 40-yard dash and put a clock on him and he's going to run, at best, 4.6 [seconds] and you're going to say 'This kid, he's just not fast enough.'

"I give credit to the Carolina coaches. They worked him out and they watched him run. When he runs sprints, his feet are all over the place. But when he's playing, his feet are underneath of him. And you talk about players that play different when the lights come on - that's what he does."

The aforementioned workout occurred during a session of UNC's summer camp. Rankin's performance at that workout resulted in his first Division I-A scholarship offer. Offers from Kent State and Utah soon followed.

Less than a month later, Rankin verbally committed to UNC.

Following the commitment, several schools - including Miami, Ohio State, and Penn State - invited Rankin to camp, which he declined.

"I just really want to stay committed to Carolina and just focus on having a good senior season," Rankin said.

For his senior season, Rankin will play a different position in Salisbury's 3-3 stack defense. He's been starting at the "hornet" position, a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker/strong safety, but will be moved to free safety.

"We noticed that if Darien is on the right side as a 'hornet,' teams are going to the left and vice versa," Pinyan said. "By putting him at free safety - which is going to help him out for college, because he's projected as a safety - it gives us the ability to play him in the middle of the field and now [teams can't avoid him by] running to the right or the left, because he's going to be there. It's going to get him in on more [plays].

"It's a little bit more of a challenge for him. He spent a little more time in the early [off] season in watching film and talking with his coaches to prepare himself."

Outside of his duties on defense, Rankin is a kick returner alongside Romar Morris, a reserve wide receiver in Salisbury's triple-option offense, and the back-up punt returner and punter.

Over the weekend, Rankin, accompanied by Morris, made his first visit to UNC as a Tar Heel commitment.

"With the safeties and corners, I introduced myself and I got to know most of them and ask them some questions," Rankin said.

The visit centered on UNC's practice.

"It was very intense," Rankin said. "They make it like an NFL practice - it was non-stop movement."

Rankin plans to be at every UNC home game this fall.

"I just want to get to know the players that are coming up and the players that are there - just get that chemistry going," Rankin said.

Since committing, Rankin has been recruiting Morris, who will make a decision in less than two weeks, for UNC.

"I don't want to pressure him too much," Rankin said. "I just want him to make his best decision on what college he wants to go to based on what fits him."

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