Ty Darlington was born, he says, to play football for the Sooners. The son of a former Oklahoma student (and diehard football fan), he grew up rooting for the program even though he was raised in Apopka, Fla., more than 1,200 miles from Norman.
Now the Sooners’ senior center is soaking up his last few months on campus as his team tries to find a way into the College Football Playoff one year after a forgettable 8–5 campaign. Oklahoma (1–0 after a 41–3 drubbing of Akron last week) travels to Knoxville this week to take on a youthful Tennessee team that beat Bowling Green 59–30 in its opener. And just to be clear: Darlington won't be intimidated by the crowd.
Campus Rush: So much has been made about Oklahoma’s offensive overhaul, with a new coordinator, a new quarterback and another dynamic running back in the mix. How have the changes been for the offensive line?
Ty Darlington: It’s not a whole lot different. We have the same offensive line coach [Bill Bedenbaugh], so a lot of our same techniques and calls are the same. Some of the play schemes are a little bit different just in terms of the type of plays that we run, but football is football. You’re going to block a similar way, we’ve just had to learn how to play faster and communicate faster up front because it’s a faster pace and we don’t have the time to slow things down and talk, like we did in the past.
CR: So, are you saying you’re in better shape now than you were a year ago?
TD: [Laughs.] I do think so. We’re all a lot lighter than last year’s line and a little bit faster. Last year I think we were [one of] the biggest lines in college football, averaged like 325 [pounds] or something and I was the light one at 295. Now I’m down to 290 and we have two other guys under 300 also.
CR: There was so much hype surrounding Oklahoma before the 2014 season, and now it seems everyone only wants to focus on Baylor and TCU in the Big 12. It feels like Oklahoma is almost an underdog. Do you like it that way?
TD: I definitely think we like it that way. It’s very different, going through the season like that, but that’s the way you prefer it; to feel like everyone is overlooking us, it lets us sit back and play our game. I think at times last year we got, not caught up in the hype, but we were putting too much pressure on ourselves. That leads to disappointment and letdown, so it is refreshing to have that underdog mentality and feel like you have something to prove, because we do.
CR: This Saturday you’ll experience a game at Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium, which regularly packs in 102,000 fans. What is the rowdiest environment you have ever played in? And what do you remember about it?
TD: Well, there's a couple. We played at Notre Dame a couple years ago [in 2013]. That was pretty loud. They always play Dropkick Murphys right before kickoff, too, that was really cool. For me, the loudest and most raucous environment we’ve played in was probably West Virginia last year. It was a night game, their fans are pretty hostile and, honestly, I love that. There were times that we couldn’t really hear each other on the field and had some trouble with the play clock ticking down because we couldn’t communicate, but it was a lot of fun. I like those environments. It does present some difficulties, but it also brings an energy to the game that’s different. [Oklahoma beat West Virginia 45–33 in Morgantown in ’14.]
CR: Last Saturday was the first time college football fans had an opportunity to watch Joe Mixon, Oklahoma’s redshirt freshman running back. What can people expect from him this season? And how is he different from Samaje Perine?
TD: Very different player, very different running back, different skill sets. Joe is very athletic, he’s probably not as much of a downhill back as Samaje is because he’s got some wiggle to him. He can play in the slot, so he brings a unique skill set. Both those guys, they add so much to our offense. And they’re both going to run for a lot of yards and both are going to catch some passes and take off, too.
CR: Two-way players are all the rage in college football right now. Any other position you’re dying to try?
TD: I wish I had the arm to play quarterback, because I love the mental part of the game. That’s where I thrive. I don’t know if I’m instinctive enough to play defense, I’m not sure I could do that. If I had the body, I’d love to go play receiver. I’ve never experienced that, obviously.
CR: You were pretty much raised to play for the Sooners, with your mom being a former Oklahoma cheerleader. What’s your earliest football memory involving OU?
TD: Oh wow, I don’t think I can remember far enough back to where my mom started brainwashing me. I had the Little Tykes OU helmet with the shoulder pads and I believe it was a number 12 jersey. My mom has pictures of my dad holding OU Sooner bibs at her baby shower, so this started way before I was even born. I do remember, we used to come here for Christmas. My mom’s cousin, Todd Thomsen, was a punter on the ’85 national championship team. I had his jersey on, and there’s a picture of me snapping a ball to my grandpa in the south end zone.
CR: Geez, you were indoctrinated in the womb.
TD: Oh yeah, and it hasn’t stopped.
CR: Your dad has won two state championships as the coach at Apopka High in Florida. What was it like to play under him? Did you have any sorts of rule around the house, like you couldn’t talk about football at the dinner table?
TD: Ha, no. It’s actually quite the opposite. I think my mom would have preferred that we instituted some rules and [stopped] talking about football. But it was more like, I’d be in my room doing homework at night and my dad would call me [into] the living room and ask me about a mistake I made that he had just seen watching film. Football was 24/7 for him, that’s why he’s so good at what he does. I remember watching film with him when I was nine years old and going to sleep watching highlight films from high school teams all over the nation.
CR: With that type of upbringing, I’m guessing you have a coaching future. Your brother Zack is a redshirt freshman quarterback at Nebraska. Before he got to Lincoln, what insider tips did you give him about college football?
TD: I just told him to be patient. There’s a jump you have to make, there’s a transition process. So many people get so frustrated because the game speeds up a lot and becomes a lot more complicated. To understand the schemes, what you’re doing, the speed at which it’s played, you have to be able to develop physically so you can compete. I mean, you come in, you’re 18 and you’re competing with guys who are 23. There’s a pretty big difference, mentally and physically. So I told him to be patient and put in the work, because it’ll pay off down the road.
CR: I’m sure you’ve talked to him since Nebraska’s heartbreaking loss to BYU on a Hail Mary. Did you give him any advice? Or just commiserate with him?
TD: I feel like we've both been through enough gut-wrenching losses, especially in the last couple years. He had a couple in high school and obviously we had some really tough ones [at Oklahoma] last year. But I told him, what’s so cool about the game is [that] there's a next game. Last week is over for them, just like it’s over for us.
CR: Describe Bob Stoops’s personality in three words.
TD: Fiery. Organized. Intelligent.
CR: What’s your karaoke song of choice?
TD: Oh! “Blank Space.” Taylor Swift. Definitely.