Tackling Life On and Off the Field
Don’t let Donovin Darius’s successful career fool you into thinking life came easy for the former NFL player. It was only a couple of decades ago that the athlete was getting his chops playing pickup games in his hometown of Camden, New Jersey. Because he couldn’t afford the $35 fee to play on an organized team, he decided his next best option was to practice wherever he could while he waited his turn to officially take the field.
“The adversity in my life, those humble beginnings, they taught me so many lessons,” Darius said with audible passion. “They taught me the value of character development, they taught me the value of persistence and resilience, pushing through those tough times.”
Before attending college at Syracuse University and being drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Darius’s childhood was marked with struggle. Growing up in one of the nation’s most violent and impoverished cities left Darius and his family grappling with a dismal reality of insecurity.
Despite these trials, however, Darius said he always had a fire burning within him. He knew his circumstances couldn’t — and wouldn’t — limit his potential for success.
“I have a quote that I love that I tell to myself every day,” he said. “Every adversity, every trial, every failure carries with it a seed of greater opportunity for success.”
After graduating from Woodrow Wilson High School and leaving home to play football at Syracuse where he set the team record for tackles by a defensive back (he had 379), Darius continued paving a path for himself that would bring him closer to his dream of playing professional football.
When his mother call him his junior year and told him his brothers had been held up at gunpoint at school, however, Darius knew he could no longer play the singular role of college athlete. He had to become a father figure, too.
“So I told (my mother) to put them on a bus and bring them up here to me,” Darius said. “I became their legal guardian. So not only was I a student, but I was also a father. I was a friend.”
As Darius recounted those tender years of taking his brothers under his wing — while also going through grueling football practices in an effort to make his dreams a reality — he showed no sense of remorse for the heaviness he had to endure at such a young age. For Darius, it was simply something he had to do.
“If they still lived in Camden, I don’t know what would have happened to them,” he admitted. “They wouldn’t have that success story that they graduated from high school. That situation was one among many where adversity can be turned into a teacher and train you.”
After playing college football, Darius was poised to try his hand at the NFL. He knew the odds were against him, as a slim margin of athletes make it to the professional league. However, that fire within him was still burning, and he knew with some grit and tenacity he could accomplish the unthinkable.
The day he got the call to play professionally, Darius said, is a day he’ll never forget. Where he was and who he was with, he said, will forever be engrained in his memory.
“I remember sitting in the car and I had my eyes closed. I was just trying to stay still for a moment,” he recalled. “I got a knock on the window from one of my brothers, and he said Jacksonville is on the phone.
“I ran out of that car so fast, and I went upstairs to where everyone was in the apartment and it was like a scene in a movie — where Moses parts the Red Sea — and all the family stepped to the side and at the end, there was my mom holding up the phone. As I walked through there, with every step, I thought about the journey that we traveled — through the poverty, the hurt, the pain, the disappointment.”
He was selected 25th overall in the 1998 NFL Draft by the Jaguars, which at the time was the highest pick ever by the team for a defensive back. The next handful of years of Darius’s story would be carried out on a national, televised stage.
Darius went on to lead the Jaguars with 109 tackles in 14 games. In 1999, he switched to strong safety and continued to strengthen his skills as a defensive powerhouse.
“To make it to the NFL, to play for 10 years, it took a lot of sacrifice. It took a lot of effort and it took a lot of studying,” Darius said.
It didn’t take long after hanging up his jersey and stepping off the field indefinitely for Darius to set another goal. He wanted to share his story with others, and encourage them to fight for their dreams and chase their goals. In a sense, he said, his true calling began once he stopped playing football.
“It all goes back to discovering your purpose,” he said. “The biggest tragedy of life isn’t death. It’s living life without a purpose.”
Too many people, Darius said, settle for leading a life lacking purpose. Honing in on your strengths, and figuring out what drives you internally, he said, is the key to unlocking life’s fullest potential.
“When I got done with the league and I had to figure out how to redefine myself, I said you know what, the thing that I love the most is teaching and encouraging people,” Darius said.
Since making that decision, Darius has met with many individuals looking to tap into their inner strength and lead a meaningful life. Along with raising five children alongside his wife and continuing to find ways to better himself, Darius said he has enjoyed sharing his message of perseverance with others.
“Successful people know this — we know we must produce continuous effort in order to create new achievement,” Darius said. “And that’s what I plan on doing.”
Darius will host a live webinar on goal setting on January 16th. Particpants can tune in at http://bit.ly/2018DDWebinar.