Nebraska fans know they’ve landed a good one in Apopka quarterback Zack Darlington, who committed to the Cornhuskers’ 2014 recruiting class on Friday. I can tell you, however, that what they’re getting in a quarterback is an even better person.
Darlington will be an exemplary representative of Nebraska football and the University of Nebraska and those qualities will surpass anything he ever accomplishes on the football turf at Memorial Stadium. Superlatives will never change the person Zack Darlington has become and will always be.
Zack, and the rest of the Darlington crew, for that matter — seven children have been born to Rick and Shelly Darlington — are the kind of people that built this country.
They are down-to-earth, honest, hard-working folks whose values are more true to them than any material temptation. They have strong beliefs in God and country and they come from a fabric that used to be the cloth from which this great nation was once proudly made.
That can’t be said about everybody these days. In a day and age when people seem to think the world owes them something just for merely existing, it’s a breath of fresh air to see such a committed family that remains true to its faith, passions and values.
Zack is the second oldest of the Darlingtons, brother Ty having already left the nest and settled in at the University of Oklahoma. He, too, is an exemplary citizen. The valedictorian of his 2012 senior class at Apopka, Ty went on to start one game as an offensive center at OU last year and was named to the Big 12’s All-Freshman team.
The two brothers are paving the way for the rest of the brood — Lilly, 6, Wyatt, 8, Jackson, 11, Gracie, 13, and Molly, 15.
“When you feel convicted, it’s just something that you do,” says mom, Shelly Darlington, once a pompon squad member at the University of Oklahoma, where she earned a degree in elementary education. “At the beginning of our marriage, Rick and I were both going the same direction with our faith and our service to God. Rick was already serving in the way he saw best and our convictions were so that we’ve stayed strong and stayed on course even when it hasn’t always been the most popular choice or when people have told us otherwise.
“Staying true to your calling no matter what others do around you sometimes isn’t the most popular thing, but at end of the day we answer to God for our convictions and stay true to what he asks us to do.”
This column isn’t to laud religion or pump a fist for Jesus. I laud the Darlingtons for their steadfast obedience to the ways in which they believe.
Even if you are not the most religious person or do not believe at all in some sort of faith, you have to have respect for the family’s conviction, determination and chosen path. The results certainly do not lie.
The Darlington children are home-schooled until they are middle-school age.
“The main reason we home school is to build a foundation of right and wrong, of what we believe, and then send them out ready,” Shelly Darlington said. “That works for us. We do have our struggles, but so far the children have branched off on their own with their conviction to faith and it’s not just because of mom and daddy anymore. Tyler is more involved and stronger in his faith as a Christian at Oklahoma than he has ever been and it’s fun to watch. Gracie has goals of becoming a missionary.”
The coach did take a stab at something advertised as a better life in Valdosta, Ga., a few years back, but that didn’t work out and his Apopka strings were still attached. The family lives in Umatilla in Lake County and is fully involved in the First Baptist Church of Umatilla, as well as in the religious rite of football.
“I have seven kids and I want them all to have the same upbringing that Tyler and Zack have had, if that’s possible,” Shelly Darlington said. “Even at 21 years of goodness, I haven’t always had the same energy, but Rick always brings me back to what our purpose is ... I only get to have Lilly at 6 one time and that’s today, so that’s what we live for.”
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.