Darby takes on Pro Day; wants to be remembered as the 'energy guy' at ASU
On a sunny Monday morning in Tempe, fifth-year wide receiver Frank Darby entered the pair of pressurized doors at the Verde Dickey Dome for the final time as a collegiate athlete. The Sun Devil favorite wasn’t on campus to train for another year in maroon and gold, or bubble with excitement to the media about playing another season in Tempe, rather he stepped on the turf inside the bubble to display his talents for NFL scouts to see at Arizona State’s 2021 Pro Day, in which he was the only athlete participating.
Darby has been a Sun Devil favorite across his time in Tempe due to his electric personality, devotion to the game, and positive attitude towards the improvement and success of himself and those around him. Bubbly and smiley as ever, Darby sat down with the media following his participation in Pro Day and shared his thoughts on his performance.
“I participated in every drill, and I felt like I did a really good job,” Darby said. “I trusted my training and went out there and tried to perform at a high level and take advantage of the opportunity. As long as I walked out on that field with a smile on my face and my head high, I feel like I did a really good job.”
As mentioned, the Sun Devil fan-favorite participated in all of the pro evaluation drills such as the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, short (5-10-5) shuttle, three-cone drill, and bench press. The receiver also went through his route tree and caught passes after the drills.
Under the tutelage of head coach Herm Edwards and the installation of his “pro model,” Darby has been waiting for the opportunity to head to the greener pastures of professional football, but with the opportunity finally brimming on the horizon, Darby was full of nerves and jitters.
“I’m not going to lie; the butterflies didn’t leave me until after the 40 (yard dash),” Darby chuckled, grinning from ear to ear. “When I was at the broad jump, I could feel my hands start shaking…. I’m happy I wasn’t nervous the whole day because I would’ve been out there shaking, and people would be wondering what’s wrong with me.”
“But once the butterflies left my body, I felt like it was a walk in the park. I just went out there and (I’ve) been doing this my whole life, so it was just go out there and catch the ball, do what you do, just always be yourself.”
Being himself is something that Darby does best. The jovial Jersey City, New Jersey native, sets out with endless energy and enthusiasm like wind in his sails. On Monday, the receiver mentioned how Edwards and the coaching staff taught him to embrace his own positivity and personality, something that’s left a significant impact on Darby.
“Some of the best advice (the ASU coaching staff) ever gave me was to always go out there and be yourself, don’t try to be somebody that you’re not,” Darby said. “You don’t have to go out there and be this person that you’re not; just always be yourself. That’s something that stood out to me from all the coaching staff here.”
Under the leadership of Edwards, Arizona State has turned the program culture completely on its head, emphasizing the development of players as young professionals and reflecting the values of the program and the coaches who nurture it to fit as such. The Sun Devils have also produced back-to-back first-round draft picks in receivers N’Keal Harry, who went 32nd overall to the New England Patriots in 2019 and Brandon Aiyuk, who was selected 25th overall in 2020.
Darby hoped to be the third in line amongst the Sun Devil draft picks, but a tumultuous 2020 season that saw two COVID outbreaks within the program dashed the shortened Pac-12 slate of seven games to just four for ASU. The graduate wideout also battled injury from the first quarter of the season on, as he exited the season opener against USC with a rib issue.
“When it gets announced that you’re going to be a go-to guy, you start working at a different level, especially during the offseason. I would say this past offseason, I was putting in inch, effort, sweat, blood and tear into having a great season and keep the legacy going like Brandon and N’Keal, but I got to the point where I didn’t try to compare my success (to theirs),” Darby explained. “Due to the fact we didn’t have a (full) season, it was frustrating and stressful because I just wanted to go out there and just be great and do a lot of good things.”
With an extremely limited season where Darby played in just two games and had six receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown (he didn’t play in the final two games against Arizona and Oregon State), Darby’s final chance at recognition ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft was the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.
While Darby was certainly intrigued by the process of a return in maroon and gold, something that close friend and teammate – sixth year cornerback Chase Lucas did - Darby mentioned a conversation he had with Lucas that explained the receiver’s mindset at the time.
“It was tough; I thought about the decision I made (for a long time), it was really difficult,” he explained. “Each and every day, I was just thinking about my family back home – my mother and my sister - I remember going to Chase, and I told him if I got the opportunity to go to the Senior Bowl, that’s what I’m going to have to go out there and do…I need to take that risk on myself.”
Darby did go to the Senior Bowl and displayed not only his talents, but his extreme drive and willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed and improve himself and those around him. After all of the months of work he had put in during the offseason being washed away due to COVID and injuries, Darby’s work all came down to one week on the opposite side of the country.
“One thing I took away from the Senior Bowl was my confidence level,” Darby said. “When I went out there, and I was able to compete with guys from the SEC, ACC and seeing different guys I never competed against during all my years in college and still being able to beat them, my confidence level shot up in the sky. If I’m beating guys in the Pac-12 and beating these guys too, there’s probably a chance I can do it in the NFL too.”
Darby’s confidence is also juiced by the support of Harry, Aiyuk and Arizona Cardinals running back and recent graduate Eno Benjamin.
“Just being around (Harry and Aiyuk) when they were here built my mindset, my skill level, and everything they brought to the table,” Darby said. With Brandon out of (junior college) and N’Keal as a five-star coming out of high school, they just had that different mindset, so that’s why I was happy to be around those guys and they helped me get to the level I’m at today.”
“Eno and I are best friends; we were committed to Iowa together, and then we came to Arizona State, and it felt like destiny for us to be on the team together and build that bond. I was talking to him yesterday, and he told me to go out there and run what you run and lift what you lift…. He was preaching to me to not be scared.”
Over the past several months, Darby has been through some of the biggest tests of his life. He had to buy in on himself early to support his family after a shortened season, and injuries tore apart a senior year full of hope and promise. Just a few weeks ago, as he was training in Florida, he also unexpectedly lost his mother.
Nevertheless, “Stupid Swole,” as he’s affectionally called, carries a smile on his face and energy in his heart as the biggest weeks of his life looms, and he hopes to take the next step towards professional football.
As he leaves Arizona State, though, he wants to be remembered as he was when he entered the program, the characteristic that defines him now and will define him as he moves forward.
He wants to be known as the “energy guy.”
“This high-energy guy! That’s all I want to be remembered by. You know I’ve got the logo I made, Stupid Swole, but overall, just a person that had that energy each and every day. I’ll probably be remembered as “Big Smiley” because I’m always smiling when you see me, but that energy guy that came in and do what he needed to do,” Darby listed. “I also want to be that deep threat, someone that’s going go out there and change the game. That’s how I want to be remembered.”
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