A high school quarterback from Apopka, Fla., was airlifted to a South Carolina hospital Saturday after a hit in the fourth quarter of Apopka’s 51-36 loss to Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes. Zack Darlington, 18, had suffered a concussion, the second in two months for the University of Nebraska commit.
After two traumatic brain injuries in such a short span, and given the nation’s intense focus on the long-term effects of concussions, it’s fair to wonder whether Darlington, a three-star recruit and No. 30-ranked quarterback in the country according to Scout.com, will ever suit up for the Cornhuskers.
But that’s the least of Apopka coach Rick Darlington’s worries, because Darlington isn’t just concerned for about a player’s safety — he’s also worried about his son’s future.
That focus on Zack’s health was made easier, however, by Huskers coach Bo Pelini, who assured Rick Darlington that his son would have a scholarship to Nebraska regardless of whether he ever played another down.
”He told me that if Zack plays again this year, if he doesn’t play this year, or if he never plays football again, they want him as a Cornhusker,” Rick Darlington said in a statement provided to FOXSports.com. “This type of integrity and loyalty is why Zack chose Nebraska as his college destination, and we are very thankful to Coach Pelini and his staff for their support of my son not just as a football player, but as a young man.”
According to the statement, there is no timetable for Zack Darlington’s return to the sideline for the defending Florida Class 8A state champs as he continues to be evaluated by Dr. James Michael Ray at the National Training Center in Clermont, Fla., and Dr. Sam Slobounov of Penn State University. And though the family says Zack “performed surprisingly well” in tests Monday, they are realistic about his long-term prospects.
”This is a difficult time for Zack and our family,” the statement read. “Many tears have been shed and many prayers said, not only for healing, but for wisdom and comfort. Zack has been our emotional and spiritual leader, both on and off the field. Now God has a new role for him, and although it is hard to not be out there running the Blue Darter offense, he has embraced his new role as a motivator, mentor, and coach as he heals and gets ready for the future.
“As a father, I am so proud of him for the love he has for his teammates, the toughness and resilience he has shown in battling adversity, and his steadfast belief that God’s plan for him is an amazing one, even though it is normal to question that in a tough time like this.
“Zack’s health and future are our top priority, and although we’d all love to have him leading us on the field, it is far more important that he moves on to college and with God’s grace in time becomes the leader of his own family and whatever group God uses him to lead.”
One can only imagine how emotional it must have been for Rick Darlington to see his son go down during Saturday’s game and then have to keep coaching, and the potentially career-ending nature of Zack Darlington’s injury must be difficult for the entire Darlington family and Apopka program to process.
But concussions are nothing to mess with, and it’s good to see that the Darlingtons — and Coach Pelini — are making Zack’s long-term success their priority.
Now, for some links:
• The Austin American Statesman tells the story of another high schooler who called quitting football after a concussion a "no brainer" — pun intended.