Ty Darlington stepped on the Oklahoma Sooners’ field for the first time when he was 6 years old, and his family marked the occasion by taking a photo of him snapping a football to his grandfather, Jack Fried.
On Nov. 21 — 17 years after that treasured family photo was taken — Darlington, now the Sooners’ starting center, reenacted the scene, snapping the ball to Fried after Oklahoma had beaten Texas Christian 30-29 on Senior Day.
“Ty gets it,” said his father, Rick Darlington, the coach at Florida power Apopka High School, winner of three state titles under his leadership. “Ty knows he’s in the middle of living his dream.”
Darlington hopes the dream will continue on Thursday, when the second-year starter leads the fourth-ranked Sooners (11-1) against No. 1 Clemson (13-0) in a College Football Playoff semifinal at Sun Life Stadium.
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The Darlington family will be united behind Ty on Thursday, but their rooting interests are split during the season.
Rick, who grew up in New Jersey as a Nebraska fan, and his wife, Shelly, a former Oklahoma cheerleader, both own license plates that have a Cornhuskers logo on one half and a Sooners sticker on the other.
Their younger son, Zack Darlington, is a 6-2, 205-pound quarterback at Nebraska, where he just completed his redshirt freshman season.
But beyond Rick — who wore a Nebraska sweatshirt on his second date with Shelly decades ago — and Zack, most of the family bleeds crimson and cream.
Fried wrote The Winning Edge; Oklahoma’s Sooners — Why they win, a behind-the-scenes look at the Sooners team that won the 1979 national title.
Ty’s cousin, Todd Thomsen, punted on Barry Switzer’s final four Sooners teams, helping Oklahoma win a national title in 1985. That team included stars such as quarterback Troy Aikman and linebacker Brian Bosworth.
In fact, Darlington recently became the 15th member of his family to graduate from Oklahoma.
Darlington, who is listed at 6-3 and 290 pounds and was a first-team All-Big 12 selection this season, said he plans on giving the NFL a shot. With 25 starts, he is the most experienced player on the Sooners offensive line.
“He’s not very big [for the NFL],” Rick Darlington said. “He’s battled injuries, and his body is beat up. But if he gets in a camp, the coaches will love his intelligence and intangibles.”
If he doesn’t make it in the NFL, Darlington — who earned his Bachelor’s degree in less than three years with a 3.91 GPA — figures to have a future as a college coach or athletic director. He is set to earn his Master’s degree in May.
Darlington this year won the William V. Campbell Trophy, given to the best football scholar-athlete in the nation, and the Wuerffel Trophy, an award that recognizes excellence in community service, academics and football.
“I’ve always taken the hardest classes,” said Darlington, who had a 5.1 GPA in high school. “At one point, I wanted to do something in the medical field. I think I could be good at it, but I don’t picture myself doing that every day and enjoying it.
“I’ve got to stay involved in sports in some way.”
One thing is for sure: Darlington never dreamed of being an offensive lineman, which is what made the photo of him as a 6-year-old snapping the ball at Oklahoma so ironic.
“I didn’t play football until the fourth grade,” he said. “I had some finesse back in the day. I grew up playing catch in the front yard. I wanted to be a fullback. I wore No. 44.
“But my dad said, ‘You need to wear an offensive lineman’s number.’ ”
On Senior Day, it was Ty who insisted on reenacting the photo with his grandfather, father and brother.
“It was too poetic a moment,” Darlington said. “I was not planning on being a center. I still had dreams of playing something other than offensive line. It’s crazy, though. I would call it God’s plan.”