Darden filling leadership role
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on November 13, 2008 1:46 PM
Shawon Darden's heart nearly jumped out of his chest. The James Kenan quarterback stood behind center and his emotions flowed all over the stadum as Clinton's defense eyed him from the other side of the ball.
An understudy last season to Shawn Jones, Darden watched as Jones led the Tigers to a 16-0 season and the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-AA (large-school) state championship.
Having completed just one pass a year ago, the pressure of replacing a quarterback who threw for nearly 1,500 yards and reached high school football's ultimate pinnacle weighed heavily on Darden.
Could he do the same?
Darden completed seven of 10 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns with just one interception in a 35-14 victory over the Dark Horses.
He was on his way.
"I was really nervous," said Darden. "I felt a lot of pressure because Shawn was a really good quarterback and he won a state championship. I wasn't very good at reading defenses, but coach (Ken) Avent Jr. helped me with that."
Now Darden reads opposing defenses with ease. He erased that inexperience during two-a-day practices with a relaxed attitude over the summer. Since then, he's basked under the glow of stadium lights and listened to cheers from the fan-filled stands at Bill Taylor Field.
A difficult non-conference schedule and contests in one of the state's highly-regarded and most-competitive leagues has helped Darden mature on the field.
Darden threw three interceptions in a 26-12 win at Ayden-Grifton just one week after his varsity debut. He has thrown just two interceptions since, and has completed nearly 58 percent of his passes.
Darden has accounted for 1,145 yards and 11 touchdowns -- both area highs -- through the air in 11 outings.
His dedication to the weight room in the offseason has paid dividends. Darden's ability to not only hurt defenses with the deep ball, but to put the right amount of touch on a pass is a difficult skill to teach and has been invaluable.
"I think the thing Shawon does really well for a quarterback is the touch he puts on the ball," said Avent Jr. "He doesn't have the strongest arm, but his touch is great and his completion percentage is one of the highest we've had at James Kenan."
The 6-foot-1, 165-pound signal caller has not only made plays with his arm this season, but his seven rushing touchdowns are tied for the team lead with Jamar Rogers. Unlike most quarterbacks, Darden possesses the ability to make defenders miss in space while using his frame to make himself more difficult to tackle.
Darden doesn't shy away from the fact he has yet to gain the freedom to make pre-snap changes at the line of scrimmage and he shares the team lead in lost fumbles with three.
However, following in his mentor's footsteps and leading his teammates back to the football promised land would go a long way to making those first-game jitters seem like distant memories.
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