It was winter break. I walked into the local PacSun, a clothing store in San Francisco‘s biggest mall. I donned a bright yellow “O” on my shirt, and while shopping in the back a girl pulled me over and asked me if I went to Oregon. I replied yes, and she told me how her best friend went there and that I was so lucky to go to an incredible school like the U of O. I nodded politely, acknowledging how great Oregon truly was. As I was walking out of the store another employee pulled me over and asked if I went to Oregon. Just because I was wearing an Oregon shirt, it seemed like I’d never make it out of the mall. I told him too that yes I did, and immediately his face lit up. He said, “My cousin plays football there!”
I too got excited, quickly asking who his cousin was. The man, named Hez, replied, “Erick Dargan. He’s a safety.” I laughed and told him how I knew Dargan well, both from interviews and from watching him in games.
It was funny that this guy happened to be Dargan’s cousin, considering that the senior safety might just happen to be my favorite player on the entire team. Sure, Marcus Mariota is great, but everyone knows him. Royce Freeman is fun to watch, and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu’s a big name that’s almost equally hard to pronounce. But Dargan, the team leader in both tackles and interceptions, flies relatively under the radar. I had a chance to talk with him at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex in an interview for FishDuck.com, during which I asked him if he actually liked to constantly be making big plays but receive little to no recognition. He said, “Definitely. My thing is to have fun and play the game. Prove the doubters wrong.”
The soft-spoken Dargan fidgeted with his hands while we spoke, clearly uncomfortable with the whole media-frenzy that was occurring in one small conference room. He didn’t want to be there, but who could blame him? Dargan carries himself just how he does on the field: leading with his actions, not his words. When Ekpre-Olomu went down for the Rose Bowl, people assumed the tandem of Nick O’Leary and Rashad Greene would run rampant against our depleted secondary. Well you don’t need me to tell you that wasn’t the case. Not even in the slightest.
Dargan said, “It’s credit to our defense and our coaching staff.” He felt that Don Pellum and the rest of the defensive coaches did an exceptional job of preparing the Ducks for FSU‘s offensive attack, and it truly showed on the field.
I also asked him what he thought of Devin Smith, OSU‘s deep threat, and whether or not he was excited to play against someone who will be constantly running deep routes. He laughed, saying, “Definitely. Ball’s going to be in the air, I think we’ve got the playmakers to make the plays.”
What most impressed me about Dargan though, more so than his humble nature and incredible athletic abilities, was his uncanny admiration for Urban Meyer and the OSU program. Coming into the game as over seven point favorites, Dargan said, “Speaking for the whole team, we haven’t written this game off. We’re going to go out there, and to be the National Champion we have to beat the best. Right now Ohio State is the best. Urban Meyer has done a phenomenal job.”
Now to me, that was admirable. Here was arguably the best defensive player on the team this year, who was about to go out against a third string QB in a National Championship game. This was the guy who forced two turnovers on back-to-back drives to clinch the Rose Bowl for the Ducks, a game in which his team won by nearly 40 points. There was no trash-talk. There was no blatant arrogance or overconfidence. Simply a man on a mission to complete a lifelong dream.
Erick Dargan doesn’t just represent Ducks Football and how Oregon football players should carry themselves in all walks of life, he represents a time in which football was about the game. Twitter wars, controversial Instagram posts, and other social media blunders that now seem to dominate the game didn’t exist back then. Any trash talk was kept on the field, where players fought hard each week and left everything they had on that grass.
So what if Dargan isn’t great with the media? So what if he doesn’t give the best interview? He’s not a press agent, he’s a football player. A damn good one at that.
Top photo from Kevin Cline