Alden Darby Comes Full Circle
By Jourdan Rodrigue, SDA Digital Communications Intern
Alden Darby trotted out through the Tillman tunnel last Saturday night amid crowd adulation usually reserved for star quarterbacks and receivers.
It was Senior Night. The Devils were playing for the Territorial Cup and home field in the Pac-12 Championship. As his cleats kicked up little tufts of turf, he listened to a crowd that, over the course of two years, had grown to adore him.
Back in 2011 he was running through the tunnel for a different coach. He was about to get his first start as a Sun Devil against Arizona. He was a couple years younger and a few pounds lighter back then, and a lot less experienced. The Devils lost that game at home and finished the season at 6-7 with a Las Vegas Maaco Bowl loss to Boise State.
Then Todd Graham came to town, and turned the Devils into a 10-win team, Pac-12 South champions, and Rose Bowl contenders.
“There are two things that stuck out to me about Coach Graham,” said Darby. “The first is how much he cares. You’ll drive by his place at midnight and see the light on in his office. He has a family of his own and still he’s constantly working. It shows how much he cares about us. And second, his energy is amazing. If you don’t match it, he just rolls right over you.”
Darby was among the first to buy into Graham’s mission. Graham looked to Darby to step up as a leader in not only the secondary, but also the entire team. From there, a bond was formed.
“He’s a lot like me,” said Darby. “We have similar lives in terms of what we’ve been through in both our football lives and personal lives.”
He said Graham opened up to him immediately, sharing stories of his own experience as a smaller safety and sticking with college through familial difficulties.
“My family was struggling,” Darby said. “But Coach always tells me to stick with it and how he stuck with it and it pays off.”
His trademark smile becomes serious. “Graham is not just a coach to me,” he said. “He’s a guy I can call if I need anything, whether it’s football or personal.”
Two Novembers later in a sold-out stadium for a soon-to-be 10-win team, Darby began to jog out under the lights. He’d gone from first-time starter to defensive star, a high-intensity crowd favorite.
“When I was in the tunnel I started to get sad,” he said. “But then I thought ‘this isn’t the last time I’ll be playing on this field,’ and right when I heard my name I got hyped up. I wanted to show the fans who Darby is, who they know me to be.”
He stopped when he got to Graham, and decided to forgo the formal handshake all the other players had given their coach. Instead, he wrapped up Graham in a massive bear-hug, a grin spread ear to ear. With that, he showed the roaring crowd who he’d become: a leader under Todd Graham.