Tyrik Darby really didn’t have a choice whether or not to become an athlete. He simply had to continue the Darby family tradition that was established by his older brothers Aaron and Tyrell, both of whom were fine football players during their heyday at Lincoln High School in Jersey City.
“They did a good job keeping me in line,” the younger Darby said. “They had a huge impact on my life. I saw them play when I was little and I wanted to follow in their footsteps.”
Veteran Lincoln head football coach Robert Hampton knew that Tyrik would eventually join the grid program like his brothers.
“I first met Tyrik when he was 8 years old,” Hampton said. “I saw a little boy running with the football and he ran with such ferocity and violence at such a young age. I knew that his whole family went to Lincoln and his family lineage would bring him to Lincoln.”
Hampton said he made a promise to Tyrik Darby when he was an up-and-coming teenager.
“When he finished with [Jersey City] Recreation, I said to him, ‘People will remember you,’” Hampton said. “I knew he was a tough kid and he played at such a high level. He had a strong family to support him. I knew he had a bright future with us.”
But there’s no way that Hampton – or anyone, for that matter – could have predicted the kind of career that Darby would have as a Lincoln athlete.
Of course, football was his primary sport. Darby was a three-year starter for the Lions, playing almost every position imaginable. Offensively, he lined up as a quarterback, running back, wide receiver and slot receiver. On the defensive side, Darby was a linebacker, free safety, strong safety and cornerback.
“He lived up to his reputation as a versatile football player,” Hampton said.
“I loved it,” Darby said. “I knew I could do multiple things and was able to use my ability well. I was a running back my whole life, from the first minute I played. I was faster than everyone and I used my speed to get all the way to high school.”
Darby caught 29 passes for 477 yards and scored five touchdowns receiving. He also rushed for nearly 400 yards and scored six touchdowns on the ground. He added an interception for a score and a kickoff return for another TD, giving him 106 total points for the Lions, who won nine games, won a home game in the state playoffs for the first time in Jersey City public school history, and went to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II semifinals.
“We put him in at quarterback against Madison in the state playoffs and he just took over, leading us to the win,” Hampton said. “He did the same thing against Passaic Valley, making big runs out of the Wildcat formation. He marched the team right down the field.”
In the winter months, Darby decided to compete in indoor track for the first time.
“It was my last year of high school and I guess there was a disadvantage of being the fastest guy in the building,” Darby said. “I didn’t know anything about the competition. I just tried to do my best.”
Veteran Lincoln track and field coach Sal Rizzo thought Darby was a welcome addition to his program.
“I knew he could do the sprints, the 55-meter dash,” Rizzo said. “He was very good. I also tried him in the shot put. He was willing to do anything.”
When it came time for the spring, Darby headed to the baseball diamond, where he played since he was 7 years old.
“Baseball was the first sport I played,” Darby said. “I was in the Jackie Robinson Little League. I wasn’t a good player until I was about 12. I think baseball was the hardest sport for me. I spent a lot of time with it, trying to get better. When I was 12, I made the All-Stars for the first time and I was proud of myself, because I worked hard. I practiced every day and played baseball on my block all the time.”
Darby was always an outfielder, but Lincoln first-year head coach Patrick Dragotti saw Darby’s potential as an infielder, particularly second base.
“Because he was very versatile, we moved him to second,” Dragotti said. “Whatever I asked of him, he was always willing to do. It was easy to have a player like him.”
And as a hitter, Darby had few peers.
“All year long, he was a leader on the field,” Dragotti said. “Whenever he stepped to the plate, I knew he had a good chance to do something great.”
Darby batted .468 with four homers, 28 RBI and an incredible 39 stolen bases.
“I was extremely proud of what we were able to do this year,” Darby said. “We only had eight wins last year and we won 12 this year. Coach Dragotti turned the program around. No one expected us to do this.”
For his versatility and ability to excel in three sports, Darby has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year for the 2013-14 scholastic sports season. Darby received his award recently from Hudson Reporter Newspaper Chain co-publisher David Unger.
Darby is only the second athlete from Lincoln to receive the year-end award that has been presented every year since 1992 to the top athlete who participates in more than one varsity sport. Chris Jones is the other Lincoln honoree, receiving the award in 2008.
“There are a lot of athletes in the county that could have received this award,” Darby said. “I’m thankful to all my coaches for their help. I didn’t think I had a chance to get it. I know my mother [Lizzie] is proud of me.”
Darby is headed to Virginia State in the fall to play football.
“I wanted to play in a conference [the MEAC] that features the style of football I play,” Darby said. “I think I’m a better receiver now than anything. But I’ll play anywhere.”
His coaches continued to sing his praises.
“It was a great feeling to watch him play,” Dragotti said. “It was an honor to be a part of it. He really has that edge that comes from being a talented multi-sport athlete. His will to win makes him special.”
“I’ve been here at Lincoln for 30 years and he’s one of the best all-around athletes I’ve ever seen,” Rizzo said. “He’s also one of the best kids. He’s so humble. You would never know he was as good as he is.”
Hampton said that Darby will be sorely missed.
“We don’t have anyone to replace him,” Hampton said. “He was a guy who could do everything and go everywhere. We don’t have that kind of athlete, someone who could do it all without complaining. Tyrik was the ultimate team player. He just waited his turn to play. He’s the guy we all turned to in the clutch and he never faltered. It’s going to be hard to replace him. In fact, I’m not even going to try.”
It’s safe to say that Tyrik Darby has left his mark on Lincoln athletics for many years to come.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.
HUDSON REPORTER MALE ATHLETES OF THE YEAR
1991-1992-Jason Casessa, Hoboken
1992-1993-Alex Rodriguez, Secaucus
1993-1994-Eduardo Gomez, Hoboken
1995-1996-Rashard Casey, Hoboken
1996-1997-Czar Wiley, North Bergen
1997-1998-Koz Perez, North Bergen
1998-1999-Mike Forcum, Hoboken
1999-2000-Jonathan Robinson, Memorial
2001-2002-Bryan Durango, Memorial
2002-2003-Jason Blanks, Hoboken
2003-2004-Danny Lopez, Weehawken
2004-2005-Mike Brown, St. Peter’s Prep
2005-2006-Garrett Askew, Hudson Catholic
2006-2007-Evan Rodriguez, North Bergen
2007-2008-Chris Jones, Lincoln
2008-2009-Michael Kuzirian, Memorial
2009-2010-Kevin Innis, St. Peter’s Prep
2010-2011-Jose Veras, Dickinson
2011-2012-Jason Pineda, Weehawken
2012-2013-Damian Corredor, Weehawken
2013-2014-Tyrik Darby, Lincoln