NORMAN — As a horrified national TV audience watched 18-year old high-school quarterback Zack Darlington suffer his second concussion in two months, then be carted off the field and airlifted to a hospital, his big brother paced around a dorm room more than 1,000 miles away anxiously awaiting any update on his condition.
Oklahoma sophomore center Ty Darlington repeatedly tried calling his parents with no luck until an update finally arrived from a surprising source.
“He was the first member of my family I talked to after he went off on the helicopter,” Ty said Tuesday. “I was freaking out, and then Zack texted me from his hospital bed.”
Concussions continue to dominate discussions at all levels of football, from the NFL's legal battles with former players to new NCAA targeting rules. But the debate on head injuries hit particularly close to home for Zack Darlington's extended family in Oklahoma, who watched his Apopka (Fla.) High team open its 2013 season on ESPN at Byrnes High in Duncan, S.C.
Zack Darlington, a Nebraska commitment, is out indefinitely, according to a statement released Monday by his dad, and Apopka coach, Rick Darlington.
Nebraska has informed the family that it will honor his commitment regardless of his football playing future.
“They've been over-the-top supportive,” Ty Darlington said. “They told him that whether he can play football this year, or next year, or if he never plays again, they're still gonna honor his scholarship. That kind of loyalty is really impressive to my family.”
The Darlington family tree has firm roots in Oklahoma.
Shelly Darlington, the boys' mother, was on the OU pom squad. Her dad, Jack Fried, co-wrote the 1976 book, “The Winning Edge,” about Sooner football.
So lots of Oklahoma eyes were glued to ESPN for Saturday's game, which quickly went from exciting to horrifying in the fourth quarter when Zack Darlington rolled to his right, sustained a violent hit and collapsed on the sideline.
Mark Fried, an uncle who lives in Norman, called watching the scene unfold on TV an “out-of-body experience.”
The collision happened right next to Zack's 8-year old brother Wyatt, an Apopka water boy. ESPN briefly switched to studio coverage, then commercials before returning to the stadium. ESPN's first shot after resuming coverage showed two of Zack's sisters crying.
“It was a very scary scene for everybody,” Mark Fried said. “For me personally to sit there and watch all of that unfold on ESPN was really surreal. It's one thing to see that sort of thing happen, but now it's happening to someone from your family that you care about.”
Ty Darlington, the oldest of seven siblings, sat in his Headington Hall dorm room, watching his brother play with teammates Trevor Knight, Matt Dimon, Christian Daimler and Taylor McNamara.
“I'm a maniac during those games,” he said. “I get so intense.”
That intensity turned to panic during that long, tense stretch when he couldn't get any answers about his brother's condition.
“It was difficult for me because I had to go about my day,” Ty Darlington said. “I didn't have anywhere to go, I wanted to do something, but there's nothing I can do from here.”
He's spoken several times to his brother since Saturday.
“He feels fine physically, so it's gonna be hard for him to stand on the sideline and watch,” Ty Darlington said. “He's had really good attitude so far.”