NORMAN — Ty Darlington played for Ben Habern.
He played for Gabe Ikard and Tyler Evans and Nila Kasitati.
One of the silicone wristbands he wears told him that he had to be his brothers' keeper.
Proverbs 17:17. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”
Oklahoma's offensive line has faced adversity all year. Two injured starters were lost for the season before it began.
Then on Saturday, as the captains walked out for the coin toss, Gabe Ikard was spotted at midfield in blue jeans and a polo shirt. OU officials released a statement saying Ikard, the Sooners' starting center and a preseason All-Big 12 lineman, suffered “head issues” this week and was not cleared to play.
That's how Darlington, a true freshman from Apopka, Fla., found himself playing for his four offensive line brothers who stood injured and dressed in street clothes for Oklahoma's 42-34 win over Baylor.
His position coach considered it a successful first start, with a few hitches. The Sooners allowed only one sack and rushed for 183 yards. Twice Darlington was penalized for false starts, though neither was fatal. In fact, both drives ended with touchdowns.
The second penalty came on third-and-2 in the third quarter with OU in the Belldozer package.
“I couldn't hear Blake (Bell),” Darlington said. “I didn't have as much experience in that situation. Hopefully I can correct that. Hopefully that won't ever happen like that again in my four years here.”
No one expected Darlington's chance to come so soon. OU coach Bob Stoops sent Ikard out for pregame warmups in uniform. But Darlington knew this week he'd be starting. When the news reached home, the son of an Oklahoma cheerleader and Apopka High School's head football coach found his phone ringing a bit more than usual.
“(My dad) was just checking up on me on how I was doing through practice and sort of giving me pointers,” Darlington said. “This is what I've dreamed of doing. I wanted to come here and be an Oklahoma Sooner for a long time.”
He just never dreamed he'd get the chance to start so early, but he was ready.
OU offensive line coach James Patton has a motto that he tells his line: Everybody's one play away.
“Playing up front and on the line you're going to hit somebody on every play or somebody's going to hit you,” Patton said. “That's the toughness that comes along there.
“Ty's a tough guy and he's a fighter. He's smart. And he knows what to do. He's got a lot of that in his blood and that showed out there today with his first start.”
In high school, Darlington was his class valedictorian, scoring a 33 on the ACT, a 2060 on the SAT and graduating with a weighted 5.1 GPA.
And he has an incredible memory.
Although only two bands showed from outside of his athletic tape, he wears eight silicone bands. Seven of them are bible verses that he can recall at the drop of a question.
First Corinthians 4:7. Colossians 2:20. Romans 6:14. Philippians 4:6-7. Romans 12:2.
They're about not worrying and not conforming and being free from sin.
Then there's a band that reads ‘Play with a purpose, pray with a purpose.'
He hasn't taken them off since his junior year of high school and only one has ever snapped. That was two weeks ago. Romans 12:12.
“It messed me up,” Darlington said.
Throughout the week, Darlington and quarterback Landry Jones texted about their faith and being prepared for the game. When the time came, Darlington selected two bands that he thought would guide him through the game, like he does before every game.
The one was about adversity. The second was about strength. Psalm 7:36.
“The verse is, ‘My heart and flesh may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever,'” Darlington said. “I knew then when going onto the field that I may mess up and I may not be big enough to go against some of the guys. I thought that was big going into this game.”