Frank Darby had just been selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the sixth round of the National Football League Draft last Saturday and he let all the media members on a Zoom call know exactly where he was from.
“Things like this don’t happen all the time for where I’m from in Jersey City, New Jersey,” Darby said on the call. “This means I made it out of Jersey City. Not many get the opportunity to go to college from Jersey City, never mind get drafted in the NFL. This is just crazy amazing. I’m super excited. I can’t explain the emotion.”
Darby, a speedy wide receiver from Arizona State, was a Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree for Lincoln High School in 2014.
Incredibly, Darby’s selection by the Falcons as the No. 184 pick overall, came almost a month to the day after he lost his mother.
“I just wish my Mom was here,” Darby said. “She would be so happy for me. My Mom was always my motivation for playing football and to get out from the city where I’m from. I wanted to take care of her. She gave me the energy to keep going. I hope that the younger cats from Jersey City can see this and realize they don’t have to go out into the streets. Maybe they can get the opportunity to do bigger things like me.”
Once Darby signs his contract, he will become only the third Lincoln product to play in the NFL in the last 30 years. But the other two (Bernie Parmalee in 1992 and Brandon McGowan in 2005) were undrafted free agents. Parmalee, currently the running backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, signed a free agent contract with the Miami Dolphins. McGowan, also a former Hudson Reporter All-Area selection, signed with the Chicago Bears.
Darby is the first Hudson County native to get selected in the draft since Bayonne’s Kenny Britt was taken by the Tennessee Titans in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
Darby said he was following the draft when he received the call from the Atlanta Falcons.
“He said, ‘Do you want to be a Falcon?’” Darby said. “I said, ‘I’ve been waiting all day for that chance.’ I was so emotional. To get picked in the sixth round, I didn’t believe it. I really think that I can play right away. I can do whatever they want. I’ll play special teams. I know that I can bring high energy for four quarters. Some others get tired after one half and I’m still going. I’m a team player. I can do a lot of great things.”
The Falcons would be happy if Darby can just be a consistent pass catcher like he was with the Sun Devils for the last few seasons.
“I put in all the extra time and effort in the offseason to get ready for this,” Darby said. “Just put me on the sidelines and I can talk to the younger cats and get them going.”
It was the third time in the call that he called people “cats.” It’s a trait that he obviously picked up from coach and mentor Robert Hampton, who refers to his players as “cats” all the time.
“He is called Frank ‘Hope’ Darby because he is a symbol of hope,” Hampton said. “I told him that all he had to do was be a good person, work hard and take care of your education. He comes from a city that is going through some tough times. So he’s the hope that our kids need. Hopefully, he can provide some hope to us. He’s lost a lot of loved ones [a mother and a grandmother within the last six months], so he can use that as being hope for others.”…
Another local football standout is getting another lease on his professional life. Union City native Steven Gonzalez, who was a two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree in his days at Union City High School before heading off to have a fine college career as an offensive guard at Penn State, has elected to join the Conquerors in a new spring football league called The Spring League or TSL.
Gonzalez signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals last year but was waived by the Cards after training camp. Gonzalez had been working out in Union City and at a training facility called FASST in Lyndhurst, with the hope of getting another shot at pro football. There is no pay in TSL, but Gonzalez was excited to get the pads back on and get back on the field, where he will play for popular head coach Jerry Glanville, the former head coach of the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints in the NFL.
Gonzalez drove to Indianapolis for the season opener last Thursday night, a game won by Gonzalez’s Conquerors over the Linemen, 27-20.
All of the Conquerors’ games will be in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, but with no fans present. Each team will play six regular season games and the Northern Division champions will face the Southern Division champs in June.
“I’m ready to get back on the field and happy to put the pads back on,” Gonzalez said via phone as he drove to Indiana. “I want to play football as long as my body says so. I feel good, so why not pursue this. It’s a developmental league. I just want to get my name out there and get more film of me in action. I don’t think it’s a gamble. I feel like I can play at a high level. It’s just a matter of getting an opportunity. As long as I’m going to get the opportunity to play, then this is just a stepping stone for something better. I got into football shape. I think I can show I can still dominate the line of scrimmage. I’m very excited for this. It’s a great opportunity for me. I’ve been working out the whole time just waiting for something like this.”
Gonzalez thought he had an invitation to training camp later this year with the Buffalo Bills lined up, but the NFL’s protocol on COVID-19 wiped out that camp try. Gonzalez will now try the TSL route…
Jersey City lost a true legend and the entire sport of high school track and field lost a total icon with the passing of Ed Grant last week. Grant, who was born and raised in Jersey City and graduated from St. Peter’s Prep and St. Peter’s College, was 94 years old. He had an impeccable record of attending 74 consecutive Penn Relays in Philadelphia, before the streak ended because of the pandemic in 2020. It’s a streak that will never be matched.
Grant worked at the Jersey Journal for many years before moving on to the Catholic Advocate and the Newark Star-Ledger (Dorf Feature Services). He was track and field’s historian and human computer, spitting out results and times from ages ago with precision. He was also the track announcer for several track meets over the years.
From a personal standpoint. Ed Grant was a mentor to me and someone I considered to be a close friend. St. Dominic Academy track and field coach John Nagel fondly recalled Grant and spent several afternoons with Grant recently while Grant was a patient in hospice care.
“He was the first one to put my name in print as ‘Jack Nagel’,” Nagel said. “Over the last 40 years, Ed has been the guy who was always there. He was a constant. He was a wealth of information and knowledge. He could tell you in 30 seconds if it was a meet record or a state record. He was a nice man who never thought he was bigger than he was.”
But in reality, Grant was larger than life in the sport of track and field. There will never be anyone quite like Ed Grant. I can only hope our mutual friend Mike Rowan was waiting at the Pearly Gates when Ed arrived – via speed record time no less – last week.
Funeral services for Ed Grant will be held in Monday, May 17 at 1:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Peace Church, 111 South Street, New Providence, N.J. Visitation will be held May 16 at the Ippolito Funeral Home, 7 Summit Ave., Summit. God speed, Edward. You truly were a man for others…
Hudson Reporter High School Baseball Top Five: 1-Ferris (8-2). 2-St. Peter’s Prep (7-5). 3-Bayonne (5-4). 4-Union City (5-4). 5-Hudson Catholic (5-4).
Hudson Reporter High School Softball Top Five: 1-Hudson Catholic (7-2). 2-Bayonne (7-2). 3-Union City (5-1). 4-North Bergen (5-4). 5-Snyder (4-3). – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com