SAVANNAH - It can be gut-wrenching watching your peers enjoy success while you remain stagnant, or worse, regress. Savannah State University football player Darvean Herron knows the feeling all too well.
The linebacker and his lifelong best friend, running back Sheldon Barnes, earned full scholarships to play for SSU. Their teammate, offensive lineman Ulrick John, earned a scholarship with Georgia State University in Atlanta. The three players signed their national letters of intent inside Bradwell’s cafeteria during an 11 a.m. ceremony on Feb. 3, 2010.
That seems like it was a million years ago to Herron. At the time, he lacked the kind of perspective that only comes with maturity.
When Herron arrived at SSU, he was determined to earn playing time as a freshman. Instead, he was redshirted by the Tigers’ coaching staff in 2010.
Meanwhile, Barnes became SSU’s starting running back when Justin Babb suffered a season-ending hamstring injury during the Tigers’ third game of the season against Bethune-Cookman. Barnes played in 11 games as a freshman and was the team’s leading rusher with 583 yards and four touchdowns on 119 carries, an average of 4.7 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the 6-foot-8, 290-pound John played in four games as a freshman at left tackle for Georgia State.
Herron said he was happy for Barnes and John, but he also became his own worst enemy “I signed at Savannah State to play early, so I really thought I was going to get the chance to play early,” Herron said. “It didn’t happen like that. I took it the wrong way, being young. I should have taken it a better way.”
Unmotivated, Herron began missing classes. His grades suffered. He was late for team meetings. Herron quit the team late in the season and gave up his athletic scholarship.
“It was a full ride,” Herron said. “I took the redshirt the wrong way. Stuff started going bad. I was just slipping. Period. Not taking care of business.”
Herron ending up sitting out the entire 2011 season, too. One day, he visited Bradwell Institute head coach Jim Walsh Jr. in Hinesville.
“He was really upset with me when I walked away (from football),” Herron said of Walsh. “But I think he understood what I had going on at the time.”
Herron listened to SSU games on the radio last season on WHCJ 90.3 FM. He said not playing was difficult.
“It hurt me having to sit at home and knowing that Sheldon was out playing football,” Herron said of Barnes. “But, at the same time, I had to do what I had to do. That’s my best friend, man. We grew up together. It was good to see him get Offensive MVP his freshman year. It motivated me to come back.”
Herron returned to the football team this spring. He is a 21-year-old sophomore, a walk-on who pays for school as a contracted cadet in SSU’s Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. He is a Cadet First Sergeant. He has three years of athletic eligibility remaining.
“I had to step up and take care of some things because I knew I had messed up my scholarship, and I knew I had to put myself in a better position, so I took the initiative to sit out a year, get myself together, get my grades right, and make some steps for myself so I’d be able to be stable,” said Herron, who is majoring in Homeland Security. “With me getting in ROTC, I can honestly say it taught me a lot: how to be responsible, how to organize myself, how to take initiative and do things the right way. After I graduate from here, I plan on going into the Army as an active-duty Second Lieutenant.”
The 6-foot, 200-pound Herron said his mother, Sharneice Herron, is proud of his decision to spend some time away from football.
“She thought it was the right move for me so that I could get myself together and become a better student-athlete,” he said. “You’re a student before you’re an athlete.”
Herron recently returned to Bradwell Institute to visit Walsh.
“When I told him I had made the team again, he was all smiles,” Herron said. “He told me whatever I do as a man, put my best foot forward. And don’t ever quit. Sometimes you have to tough it out, bend your head back and just go through it.”
Herron has been practicing at inside linebacker with SSU’s first-string defense. David Roberson, the Tigers’ first-year linebackers coach, said Herron has tremendous potential.
“Darvean cares. He cares about everything that I’m preaching,” Roberson said.
“He cares more than anybody I’ve ever met before in my life. He’s calling me late at night. He’s in my office early in the mornings. On his own time. He’s coming in trying to get some extra time if I’m free. He’ll ask me certain things about certain plays.”
Herron said he has given advice to younger players who are redshirting. “I tell them to just keep working, no matter what,” he said. “Work as hard as you can work. Get better for next season. Just because you’re not playing right now, you can always get bigger, faster and stronger. And smarter.”