Frank Darby shows big skills, big energy and big smile on ASU Pro Day
By Stephen McCarthy
Walter Cronkite School Class of 2021
Frank Darby returned to Arizona State University on March 29 to showcase his talent in an attempt to follow the footsteps of his former teammates and become the third ASU football wide receiver in a row to be drafted in the first round of the NFL draft.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Sun Devil finished his pro day averaging 4.57 seconds on his 40-yard dash, 19 reps on the bench press and a vertical jump of 34.5 inches, according to Jim Nagy, the executive director of Reese's Senior Bowl.
After the pro day was over, Darby was all smiles as he met with the media, which is not surprising if you know him.
"I felt like I did a really good job out there. I trusted my training and went out there and tried to perform at a high-level and take advantage of the opportunity," said Darby. "And as long as I walk off that field with a smile on my face and my head high, I felt like I did a really good job."
When asked about his anxiousness for his pro day, Darby was very candid. "Oh man, you want to talk about nerves? I'm not going to lie, the butterflies didn't leave me until after the 40," said Darby. "Once the butterflies left my body, I just felt like it was a walk in the park."
Darby had been close friends and teammates with former Sun Devils N'Keal Harry and Brandon Aiyuk. Both players were selected in the first round the NFL Draft the last two years: Harry was selected by the New England Patriots with the 32nd pick in 2019 and Aiyuk by the San Francisco 49ers with the 25th pick in last year's draft.
The experiences shared by the three Sun Devils are something that Darby still cherishes and uses for motivation.
"When I'm working out with them and doing similar things that they were doing, I'm just like 'I can be a draft pick too,'" Darby recollected. "Being around them when they were here, it built my mindset and my skill level. They helped me get to the level that I'm at today."
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Harry and Aiyuk being drafted left Darby with big shoes to fill for the Sun Devils, a task that he felt ready for.
"When you get announced that you're going to be a go-to guy, you start working at a different level, especially during the offseason."
The two former Sun Devils were not the only ones with ASU ties motivating Darby to reach his potential. Darby spoke about current Sun Devil head coach Herm Edwards and the invaluable advice that he has given him.
"He would pull me in his office, and he was always saying to me 'Don't worry about Brandon, don't worry about N'Keal. You just worry about yourself,'" recalled Darby. "Some of the best advice they gave me was just always go out there and be yourself … don't try to be someone that you're not."
Darby credits a great deal of his motivation to those words. "That was one thing that stood (out) to me from all the coaches and coaching staffs here," said Darby. "The most important advice is just go out there and be yourself."
In addition to the counsel from coach Edwards, Darby spoke about his appreciation for the guidance that current NFL players have given him. "One thing I got from (Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin) Jefferson was just 'don't be scared,'" said Darby. "(Current Cleveland Browns wide receiver) Jarvis (Landry) was always preaching to me about taking care of your body. Doing things that nobody else was willing to do."
When asked what he felt he could bring to an NFL team, Darby flashed his trademark smile and replied: "One thing I can say is my toughness and also the energy that I bring. I'm going to go out there with energy and that's going to push other players to be great and play at their highest level each and every day at practice.
"I'm also tough enough to go out there and play special teams. That's just one thing about me, just like my energy and the way I compete, the passion I have to go out there and play football."
Darby believes that NFL teams can also look forward to the leadership skills that he cultivated at ASU.
"I just know a lot of guys are going to follow my lead," said Darby. "You know that this is a job that can also be taken away from you, so you always have to go out there and play at a high level each and every day."
Despite the confidence and positivity that Darby displayed, the decision to enter the NFL draft instead of returning to ASU for his extra year of eligibility was a hard one to make.
"It was tough," said Darby. "I would think about my family back home and my mother and my sister and I remember going to (current ASU defensive back) Chase (Lucas) and told him if I got the opportunity to go to the Senior Bowl, that's where I have to go do what I need to do, just take that risk on myself …
"It was frustrating and stressful. Just because I wanted to go out there and just be great and do a lot of good things, but I got the opportunity to go to the Senior Bowl where I had to put all that effort into one week."
Darby doesn't regret his decision, and his strong performance at the Senior Bowl only added to his conviction. "One thing I say I took away from the Senior Bowl is my confidence level … my confidence level had shot up into the sky."
As Darby prepares to enter the next chapter of his football career, he looks back fondly on his time at ASU. "I'm blessed and I'm just happy that I got to this point in my life today," he said.
When asked about the legacy he will leave behind at ASU, Darby said he wants to be remembered for his energy and attitude.
"I always had that energy each and every day. They're probably going to remember me for 'Big Smiley' because I'm always smiling when you see me.
"Also, the deep threat. Somebody that's going to go out there and change the game. That's how I want to be remembered at ASU … I'm just happy I'm a Sun Devil and I'm happy I chose this school to come to."
Stephen McCarthy is a senior in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism who will graduate in the spring of 2021. Originally from Scottsdale, Arizona, he has worked in ASU's PR Lab and has interned at Maag Commplus, a public relations agency, in his Sun Devil undergraduate career.