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February 24, 2011

The Darling tragedy 10 years later

Saturday, February 26th will mark the 10 year anniversary since Florida State freshman linebacker Devaughn Darling died. The 18 year old collapsed while taking part in mat drills and died the same day of an apparent "cardiac arrhythmia". A lawsuit ensued and a $2 million settlement was agreed on in 2004. However, this story isn't about the lawsuit or the settlement, it's about Devaughn's brother Devard who has had a great deal of success on and off the field, but has done so without his brother and best friend. It's been a long, tough decade for the Darling family. But through it all, his love for Florida State has never faded.

February, 2001

Devard says he remembers that day like it was yesterday. Not so much because of what happened, but the conversation the two had on their way to mat drills that morning.

"I remember everything vividly, from the night before going into that day," said Devard Darling. "I remember everything we did, everything we talked about. We were going into the last few days of mat drills and spring break was coming up; we were ready to go home. I remember thinking I just want to go home, and that was one of our last conversations--driving to the Moore Center. That was the last conversation we had."

Devard says that not a day goes by that he doesn't think about his brother, or what could have been if they both were able to fulfill their dreams together.

"Of course, (you spend) everyday of your life with someone and all of a sudden they are gone," he said. "It seems like just yesterday, not a day goes by that I don't think about Devaughn. I dream about him all the time. He's always with me. It doesn't feel like 10 years, when you think about it, it's kinda crazy.

"It's not just my career, its everyday. I know Devaughn is with me. It's hard for me, with him being six feet deep in the dirt. I live everyday for him."

Devard has done his part to keep his brother's dream and legacy alive. He started the "As One Foundation" (www.AsOneFoundation.org) which helps kids in Houston and his native Bahamas. This Sunday, February 27th, the foundation will hold a 5K run, just one of many events they will have to continue to raise money to help kids, and keep Devard close to his brother.

"As One Foundation is near and dear to my heart," said Darling. "When it first started it was me and Devaughn's dream. When we made it to the NFL we were going to give back to our community. With his passing, I was left to take on the cross and fulfill the dream, that's how it was formed and born. It was Devaughn's dream to help kids and the community. We look to help and unleash these kids' future, hopes and dreams through education and sports. We give away scholarships to students to help them in college, it's a great thing we do as a foundation. It's definitely a dream come true."

Speaking of dreams, Devard was able to live out his. After transferring out of Florida State, he went on to play at Washington State and finished with 1,630 yards and 30 touchdowns. Darling's play at WSU caught the eye of NFL coaches and scouts and he was drafted in the third round of the 2004 Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. He had a decent career in Baltimore, spending three years there before signing a free agent deal in Kansas City. His career in K.C. ended with an ACL injury and he was released by the Chiefs in March 2010. This past year, Darling played with the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL, but his dream is still to get back to the league that he and his brother talked about as kids.

"Last year was my last year with the Chiefs. I tore my ACL and the UFL came up and it was the perfect opportunity for me to test my knee out and get confidence in my game," said Darling. "Right now I'm a free agent, hopefully get picked up by an NFL team. I'm still in good shape so we'll see what happens with the CBA and everything in the near future."

Devard Darling currently lives in Houston, Texas with his wife and two boys. Devard Jr. is three years old and Devaughn II is three months old. A second generation Devard and Devaughn are doing well. Will they be football players like their father and uncle? That remains to be seen.

The 2000 Recruiting Class

The Darling twins were two of the many stars to come to Florida State as part of the 2000 signing class. Travis Johnson, Greg Jones, Bryant McFadden, Alex Barron--the list goes on and on. Devard says he keeps in touch with all of those guys and says he and Devaughn loved everything about Florida State, especially Devaughn.

"We were football fans growing up and still to this day, we knew everything about FSU. Going through that process, it was after our junior season in high school, we were getting heavily recruited and FSU came along," he said. "It was the perfect fit. They would have a need for linebackers and receivers, we could get on the field quickly, and they just got done playing for the national championship and the next year they won it. It was an easy choice for us. We committed to FSU after our junior season and it was the school we loved, especially Devaughn. He was buried in a Florida State uniform."

Devard has been asked many times, would he do it all over again, and go to Florida State? It's a tough question to ask because of the circumstances, but at the time, Florida State was their dream, and he's just fortunate that Devaughn was able to live out his dream and suit up for the Garnet and Gold before his untimely passing.

"If my brother was alive, this would be a moot point, that's where we wanted to be," said Devard. "That's where we wanted to be, especially Devaughn, he just loved being a Seminole. From that day he committed he was 110 percent a 'Nole. Every tackle he made, he said, don't mess with a 'Nole. Every time he shook hands, don't mess with a 'Nole. I hate to say it, but he was a 'Nole to the death."



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