APOPKA, Fla. -- A season opening loss wasn't the way Apopka (Fla.) High School's Ty Darlington planned the start to his senior year, but it is something the nation's No. 2 center will use as fuel.
"It's real tough right now," said Darlington, who is No. 97 in the ESPNU 150. "We circled this day and were shooting for it the entire offseason. We worked hard like never before. I mean it was the hardest ever in my four years. But this team has a great attitude and we will learn from this loss and get better. We will rebound and let it motivate us."
Darlington, 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, has worked hard his entire life to get better both on and off the field.
"He has really worked at it," said Rick Darlington, Ty's father and the coach at Apopka. "Ty does a good job. He's smart and has a chance to be valedictorian. He's such a hard worker. I have never seen a worth ethic like his. His intelligence is God's gift to him and his work ethic is his gift back to God. He's not that 6-6 guy with all that athletic ability. He's just worked his tail off. I am really proud of him."
For Darlington, hard work is something he feels he must do because he just doesn't know any different.
"It's something I always did, even at a young age," Darlington said. "It was something my parents instilled in me. I think it's a God thing. I have some talent but I am not the greatest athlete or the strongest guy. It's my work ethic that has made me better. It's something in my heart. I just work as hard as I can in everything in life. I give it my best."
Darlington's hard work and dedication to the game of football has paid off as he's heading to his dream school, Oklahoma.
"My mom went to Oklahoma so we have the family connection there," Darlington said. "I grew up idolizing OU. There are pictures of me in an OU helmet and diaper. They were my team growing up. I loved them in middle school and high school. When they offered me it was big deal but I also wanted to sit back and look at it all and take an unbiased approach. But in the end I love Oklahoma. I love the coaches. It was just too much. I fit the program and I feel like I can go there and help them win championships. They are No. 1 and that what I want to be."
Can the top-ranked Sooners go wire to wire and win the national championship?
"I sure want them to and I believe they can," Darlington said. "I am going in a couple of weeks to FSU [when it hosts Oklahoma]. I can't wait. As soon as I found out I got tickets. I can't wait for that game."
In the meantime, Darlington will try and get Apopka back on the winning track. While he played center last season and that's where he will likely end up playing in Norman, this fall he's playing guard for the Blue Darters.
"They like me at center and that where they want me to come in and play," Darlington said. "I am fine with that. My team needs me at guard this year. I am good on the move and getting out on sweeps getting on edge. But I am also comfortable playing center but have to put in the work in the offseason."
Apopka safety with over a dozen offers
Apopka safety K.J. Dillon. He had a big game against Orlando Dr. Phillips, scoring a touchdown off an interception return, making some big tackles and contributing in the passing game as a receiver.
"Nick is a great athlete," Darlington said. "He came out and played well. I expected that. He had that interception. He has grown up a lot and come so far since the ninth grade. Now he's one of our captains. He has come a long way as a person and a player and he's a talent that's a leader of this team."
Dillion, 6-1 and 190 pounds, plays safety and receiver. He will do whatever it takes to help out his team.
"I played both ways on offense and defense," Dillon said. "I had that pick six. I am a leader and I hit hard. I can throw the ball and catch the ball. I am a team player and do whatever it takes."
Dillon says he has 15 offers, including Arkansas, West Virginia and Kentucky.
"Those are some of my bigger scholarship offers," Dillon said. "Right now I am open. I will definitely visit those schools. I know I will try and see Arkansas on October 8th when they play Auburn."
Patti with big game
One of the primary reasons why Dr. Phillips beat Apopka was the play of its senior quarterback, Nick Patti.
Patti, a three-star recruit, accounted for all Dr. Phillips' scores with three touchdown passes and two rushing scores. The big one came on the first play of the second half, where he rumbled 80 yards for a score.
"I pride myself on putting my team on my shoulders and taking the role of leading with these guys," Patti said. "That's my job as a QB. I did alright but we were not clicking early but cleaned it up in the second half."
Patti has committed to Boise State. He, like many in the college football fans out there, are anxious to see what the Broncos can do this season, especially coming off a huge win against Georgia.
"They are supposed to do real well and I have a lot of faith in them to succeed," Patti said. "I can't wait to see them in action. I will likely take my official when they play Tulsa."
Griffey should have big season
Wide receiver Trey Griffey should have a monster season for Dr. Phillips. Last Friday night he was on the receiving end of eight Patti passes, including one for a touchdown.
"It feels good," Griffey said. "This was my first one as a Panther. Apopka is good every year and we had to do everything we could. I did pretty well but there is stuff I need to work on. But overall it was a good day. As you can see tonight, we [Nick Patti] are on the same page. This spring we only had 14 practices but we worked hard this summer and the seven on seven really helped us out. We have a good connection."
Griffey, 6-2 and 185 pounds, is the son of former Major League Baseball star Ken Griffey, Jr. Right now he has scholarship offers from a dozen schools, including Michigan State.
"I am open right now and not really set on a college," Griffey said. "I will take visits and do everything I need to do but I want to start doing that a little later on this season. I am still deciding on colleges I want to pursue. Michigan State has offered and my last two were Iowa State and Middle Tennessee State."
One more to watch at Apopka
An exciting senior prospect for the Blue Darters is running back Qua Barnes. He's only 5-8 and 160 pounds, but he has the ability to make a lot of big plays with his speed and quickness.
"Qua's a heck of a player," Darlington said. "He's not real big but he's very exciting. He's a lot like Jeremy Gallon [a former Apopka star now at Michigan]. Qua's very athletic. Hopefully someone take a look at him and give him a shot."
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.