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August 5, 2011"Two-one and Lewis," the unsafe corner where defensive back Alden Darby spent much of his parent-less childhood; the spot where Warren G was carjacked in his breakout rap single "Regulate"; an intersection near Polytechnic High School where Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg and Warren G 'attended' high school in Long Beach, Calif., located in a police district, one of four in the city, that reported eight murders and close to 1,000 assaults in 2010 alone.
Embedded in the trivia is an implication neither uncommon nor trivial in the realm of 'revenue-generating' college sports; like many of his teammates at Arizona State, Darby is a survivor, an achiever.
Darby didn't need roots to sprout and bloom in a concrete jungle. With mom and dad behind bars most of his childhood, Darby adapted. He leaned on extended family and friends. He learned people: good, bad, ugly and indifferent. He embraced multiple responsibilities on the field at Millikan Senior High, dominating on defense and special teams and all but throwing passes to himself on offense. He stared down ineligibility in the spring of 2010 by taking and passing nine classes. Darby did what it took to get a scholarship.
"The game doesn't seem too big for him just yet," cornerback coach Greg Burns said at the end of last year's fall camp. "I would definitely say his childhood has helped a lot, in an unfortunate way. He has unfortunately had to grow up fast with personal life issues that has probably given him a different perspective on life."
What the ASU coaching staff is asking Darby to do in 2011 -- play safety and cornerback as a true sophomore -- requires a rare combination of skills and attributes; not coincidentally, the kind that allowed Darby to escape Long Beach.
Precociousness, a quick assimilation of knowledge.
"We know he has the ability to be double-taught from all aspects of both positions," Burns said.
Darby spent off-season hours with fellow defensive backs Clint Floyd, Eddie Elder and Omar Bolden in order to see the "whole picture" of the defense, something few at his position grasp at his age, according to Burns.
"I'm like a hybrid," Darby said. "At safety I like how I close the gaps. On a run or sweep or something like that I can run and show my speed. At corner I love pressing. If it is man-to-man I press every single play of the game."
Redshirt junior corner back Deveron Carr: "He has good hips, he is fast, he has great hands, and has great awareness for the ball so I feel like he can play safety or corner, it really doesn't matter to him,"
"I think he is an energy guy," Burns said. "He's kind of like a spark plug. He is going to make some flashy plays."
Darby: "I have been a leader all my life. I'm not the type of person who is going to sit back and be quite. I'm talking, dancing a lot of times. I'm going to try to be a leader even though I'm a young guy."
As a true freshman, Darby played in all 12 games in 2010. He started as a nickel-back, was later given repetitions at safety and even got looks at linebacker after a rash of injuries in the middle of the season. Darby spent all of spring at safety, only to get repetitions at cornerback on the first day of fall camp.
"If the need is at safety he will be at safety, if the need is at corner he will play corner and we will go from there," Burns said.
After the best off-season in Darby's young athletic career, which included large gains in endurance, according to Darby, results on the field are pending.
While the playmaking element in Darby's game has yet to manifest, it won't necessarily need to for he and his fellow defensive backs to have a successful season.
ASU will need its secondary to cut-down on missed assignments and physical miscues in 2011. It wasn't just untimely and unsightly penalties that kept the Sun Devils out of the national picture, let alone a bowl game, but explosive passing plays, defined as 20 yards or longer.
The ASU defense yielded 32 touchdown drives. On 12 of those drives opposing offenses completed one more explosive pass, including five touchdown passes of 40 yards or more. ASU finished 6th in the conference and 62nd in the country in defensive pass efficiency. While also a function of an inconsistent pass rush, among other things, Darby and friends will have to execute at a higher level if ASU has a chance to meet its potential and live up to pre-season hype. If the Sun Devils secondary can't cut down on explosive plays, they'll need to make up for with turnovers. ASU recorded just 12 interceptions last year, 55th in the country.
"We need all 11," Darby said. "We're going to feed off each other and we all have to bring energy."
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