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Darling recalled warmly

Coaches, teammates share grief at service for FSU linebacker.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2001

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida State coach Bobby Bowden confessed during an emotional memorial service that he, like many in a stunned community, has been asking how freshman linebacker Devaughn Darling could have died suddenly.

He hoped his answer wouldn't upset any of the hundreds of people, including the Darling family and most of the athletic department, who came to Ruby Diamond Auditorium on Thursday morning seeking some closure.

"He wanted to be the best," said Bowden, standing behind a large placard with Darling's number -- the 53 was made of garnet-colored mums with a background of daisies that were spray-painted gold -- and flanked by linebacker coach Joe Kines, senior linebacker Brian Allen, freshman offensive lineman Ray Willis and team chaplain Clint Purvis.

"Listen to what I'm saying now and I hope it doesn't hit anybody wrong. He wanted to be the best and he would have been, I'm talking about as a player, because of his determination. He's the first player I've ever coached in 47 years who actually worked himself to death. I will not quit. I will not quit. I will not give in. I will die before I quit. That's a great virtue. It cost him his life."

Darling, 18, collapsed and died Monday after completing a strenuous early morning workout, the so-called "mat drills" that have been a signature of FSU football throughout the Bowden era and a model for other teams across the nation.

"I wish to apologize to his family, and I do, that I didn't see that; that I didn't recognize that he'll never complain and he'll never quit," Bowden said. "Maybe I could have saved this from happening."

Teammate Bobby Meeks said Darling complained of chest pains but didn't notify the trainers or coaches. It's still unknown what caused his death and lab results won't be completed for four to six weeks.

FSU canceled the remaining two days of mat drills and, after meeting with players for 90 minutes Wednesday and realizing how apprehensive they were about the drills, Bowden said he will re-evaluate the off-season conditioning program that he has used for nearly a half-century without incident.

"All of sudden, you lose somebody; all of a sudden, somebody dies and that throws it into an entirely different perspective," he said. "And that's the part I didn't quite grasp until I talked to the players yesterday, because now you're thinking about how hard you work the boys, that's part of the secret to our success here, and now you've lost a boy. Now, how does that affect the others?

"Well they're thinking, 'Oh, gosh. What if something happens to me?' So, we'll have to reassess what we're doing. I'm not saying change. I don't think Devaughn would want us to go home and go to bed and quit. The world must go on, but we have to do a real good job of looking at things and make sure we're doing what's best for the players. ... We have got to do whatever it takes, but not at the risk of a life."

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the nearly 50-minute service was provided by Willis, who knew Darling from Texas and lived next door to him.

After a heavy sigh, Willis, whose mother died shortly after practice began in August, promised that Darling "will be etched in my heart and soul. ... I will live my life for Devaughn. He would want me to. He would want me to reach all the dreams we talked about."

Looking at Darling's twin, freshman receiver Devard, Willis added: "I don't have any brothers, Devard, and God took yours. I wish I could shoulder some of this burden. ... I ask you to be strong and know it's not the end of the world. Something good must come from this. I don't know what it is yet, but something good must come from this."

Allen, a departing senior and last season's defensive captain who "admired and respected" the youngster he called his "Little Protege," offered one possibility for what that good might be.

"Tragedy gives us a chance to become better people, to become more understanding, more forgiving, more compassionate and more thankful," he said, his voice cracking. "A tragedy, a death, reminds us to appreciate every moment. It reminds us to tell people that we love them, that they matter in our lives. Tell them every chance you get. You may not get another chance."

That was the common thread of all the speakers.

"Although he was only here half a year," Bowden said, "he will never be forgotten at Florida State."

Funeral services are scheduled for noon Saturday in Houston. Bowden, Kines, recruiting coordinator John Lilly, associate athletic director Andy Urbanic, Willis, linebacker Bradley Jennings and freshman defensive back Claudius Osei are set to attend.

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