He promised himself it would never happen again.
On the sideline — watching, not playing and redshirting.
“In my mind I was like I don’t want to sit out again... I did whatever it would take,” redshirt freshman receiver Frank Darby said of his offseason workouts. “I got stronger. I got faster. Just to get on the field and work on every little thing that was stopping me from playing last year.”
On Saturday night, it all payed off. The 2016 co-offensive scout player of the year finally dug his cleats into Frank Kush Field’s turf where he amassed 111 receiving yards with a 53-yard touchdown catch in his debut in Arizona State’s 30-20 loss to San Diego State.
His reaction: “I could probably say that was the best feeling of my life."
With Darby’s back against the wall, phones and a camera shoved into his face, sophomore receiver N’keal Harry walked by and threw his hands up in celebration and yelled “yes!” — elated his teammate was the main attraction of Tuesday’s media availability.
“I look at my Facebook page, and I was like the trending topic. Every time I scrolled it just was a picture of me,” Darby said. “Oh my God. It was my mom, uncle, former high school players. Everybody writing on my wall saying congratulations... I was getting random phone calls from people — old teachers. It was just so much love. My phone just kept ringing.”
But what it was that got Darby to the center of attention, was his ability to catch the deep ball.
Down 7-0 nearing the end of the first quarter and hungry for his first career catch, Darby raced down the field, as quarterback Manny Wilkins was hit by a defender, but still managed to air out a 42-yard deep, but under thrown pass to Darby in which he turned around and secured the ball, hitting the ground hard at the 1-yard line. The play set up a 1-yard touchdown run via the Sparky formation that tied the game, 7-7.
But it was his third catch that grabbed all the attention. Down 30-14 midway through the fourth quarter on a 3rd-and-37 from the Arizona State 47-yard line, Wilkins unloaded again. Darby and a receiver were tangled together near the end zone, but with proper technique and footing, Darby separated himself and caught the ball over his shoulder. Touchdown.
The 53-yard touchdown catch wasn’t quite as simple as it seems. Wilkins, along with much of Sun Devil Stadium’s remaining attendance thought it was offensive pass interference, but it wasn’t. Darby made the proper adjustment at the right time. It was something he worked on in practice daily.
“I mean the ball is so high and I’m like looking at it like ‘oh, wow,’ so now we connected again and I’m like don’t pull, don’t push — none of that,” Darby said. “I mean, on the pat and go we always work on the outside catch. So I was thinking about catching the ball on the outside and finally it just dropped.”
Mouthing and moving to explain just how solid Darby’s catch turned out, first-year wide receivers coach Rob Likens praised the freshman receiver from Jersey City, New Jersey.
“He held the guy off and held him off and waited until the last second and then caught the ball over his outside shoulder, which is a very difficult catch. But we’ve been practicing that every single day,” Likens said. “For him to just trust his technique and his coaching and all that stuff under pressure in a situation like that speaks volumes about him.”
Darby is sensational when it comes to the deep ball. With 957 receiving yards his senior season at Lincoln High School (New Jersey), Darby averaged 27.3 yards per catch. After just three catches, for 111 yards this season, Darby leads ASU with a team-high 37 yards per catch.
“I love the deep ball,” Darby said. “Being recruited, they’d ask me ‘what’s your favorite route’ and I was like ‘go... Go. Just throw the ball.
“You watch my high school highlights and it’s nothing but the deep ball. That’s just like a big advantage.”
Wilkins noted after the loss, that Darby was “the guy” for that situation — catching the 3rd-and-37 long ball.
Along with deeming him “very energetic, very outgoing, [and a] high spirited dude,” Wilkins explained Darby means business. After a season as a redshirt, Wilkins said he told Darby he can make the most out of his summer, and earn a major role. He did.
Now, even as a dependable for the Sun Devils, Darby won’t take a day off. Or a post practice workout.
“N’keal and I have a thing where we stay after practice, just do a lot of timing stuff together,” Wilkins said. “And the other day, he (Darby) was frustrated, like ‘why the hell I ain’t out there with you throwing extra routes after practice.’ I said ‘come get the work, if you want the work, you know.’ And he’s been there ever since."
Combined with a mixture of energy, heart and work ethic, Darby is primed for a breakout season following his montrous debut.
On Saturday, Darby plays Texas Tech — a team who gave up a nation-worst 43.5 points per game last season. With that being said, along with John Humphrey, Arizona State’s leading yard-getter among receivers (123), reportedly questionable for Saturday’s game, Darby has a large opportunity ahead of him.
“They way I look at it, we should go there being angry. We should play angry. We should not drop a pass. We shouldn’t miss minor errors, no mental errors. None of that," Darby said. "Just like last year. They came in here thinking they were going to win. And we’re going to go over there and keep handing them the same business.”