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In Platte City, Mo., high school football is more than just king; it’s all the city has. It’s a town where on the morning of each home football game, the same crowd of parents and town people can be found assembled at the stadium waiting with signs to mark off their seat. It’s a town where the walls of the local barbershop are covered with pictures and articles of teams past, and on Saturdays, ‘coach’ can be found getting his usual haircut while being showered with the question, “remember when?” It’s a town where finishing 11-1 is considered as a bad season.
It’s a town where each young kid grows up envisioning themselves being the one leading the team to an eighth state championship. It’s a town that gives fruition to the one legendized in “Friday Night Lights.”
It’s a culture that was created over the course of 30 years by coach Chip Sherman and the way he truly made it a community program. It’s a program that junior Jordan Darling grew up and worked towards being a part of someday.
Rated as one of the top 100 juniors in the state of Texas by www.texasfootball.com, Shawnee Mission East’s football team has a new quarterback. And although junior Jordan Darling has a new home at East, he has lived a life of a nomad. Having called four different states and two different countries “home,” Platte City is where Jordan learned to play the game that defines his life today.
Having lived in Platte City since he was 12, football is ingrained into his core. Growing up, Jordan spent his weeks like any other boy his age: living for the Friday night football game; dreaming and preparing for the day that he would be under the lights wearing Platte’s black and orange being led by coach Sherman.
“In a little town like that during your Friday night, that’s all you do,” Sherman said. “You go to the game and you wear your youth jersey; you sit in the stands with your group of kids and you’re cheering and that’s what those kids looked forward to.”
With an older brother in the program, Jordan learned of the legend of Sherman first hand. As Matt, Jordan’s brother, progressed with the team, Jordan stood on the sidelines of any practice he could, watching and learning. Jordan saw his brother grow from receiver as a junior to starting quarterback as a senior, soaking in everything he could.
As the Darling family got more invested into the program through Matt, Jordan was able to spend time with Sherman learning not only skills for on the field but for off the field as well.
“The main thing he’s taught me, was that no matter what you do in life, just work your hardest and eventually it will all work out,” Jordan said. “He’s a big inspiration based off his work ethic and his story, beating cancer. It just comes to show that if you work hard at anything, you’ll be able to succeed in life.”
Every Monday through Thursday night during the football season, Sherman walked his dog up to the Platte County high school stadium and had an open invite out to any football players to come for help with whatever they needed on the football field. Whether it was help on perfecting stances, running routes or long snapping, they knew Sherman was there to help. Whether a kid was the starting quarterback on varsity or in 6th grade just learning how to make a form tackle, Sherman welcomed him. Since the Darling’s arrived in Platte, Jordan was always there. Whether it was throwing to his brother as he ran routes or playing with his Beagle dog Luna, Jordan grew up on these fields.
“Growing up, he just couldn’t get enough of being up at the field,” Sherman said. “If we ran a youth camp, man, he was the first one there, last one to leave. Or at practice, he’s around. You know he just liked being around it.”
One night, five years ago, when Jordan was in 7th grade, Jordan really grabbed Sherman’s attention. Watching Jordan play catch with a friend on the Platte Stadium field, Sherman asked if Jordan would throw into the particularly strong night wind. Going away, Sherman said something to Jordan that has stayed with him throughout high school.
“One thing that has always stuck with me,” Jordan said. “I’ll be real special one day as long as I keep working hard and luckily I’ve been blessed thus far.”
For Sherman, identifying Jordan’s talent at quarterback was easier for him than it was for his earlier coaches. When they saw Jordan’s massive frame paired with speed beyond the ability of most players that big, they thought Jordan playing quarterback wasn’t logical.
“I identified this back when he was in 8th grade; everybody wanted to move him from quarterback because he was so big — they wanted to move him to tight end, d-end, all of that,” Sherman said. “And I told his dad, ‘don’t let them move him, don’t let them move him. Kid’s a quarterback, let him play quarterback.’”
With his relationship with Sherman and the early success he saw, Jordan’s life entirely shifted focus to making himself the best football player he could be.
“Growing up, he just couldn’t get enough of being up at the field,” Sherman said. “If we ran a youth camp, man, he was the first one there, last one to leave.”
“I don’t really have an off season; football is an all year thing for me and my dad,” Jordan said. “We go out and throw six times a week, I lift five times a week, I run 6-7 days a week, all I know is to work hard because that’s all I’m good at.”
In 2008 as Sherman retired from Platte County High School, Jordan entered his freshman year. But with his mother in the military, the Darling family received orders and they were on the move. Although both Sherman and the Darlings were separated, their friendship that began the moment they arrived in Platte continued, allowing Sherman to keep tabs on Jordan’s next chapter in football.
“I could tell [Jordan] was going to be a real good player,” Sherman said. “He was so determined and he was so dedicated to being good.”
It was only a matter of time before the Darling’s run in Platte was over. Although it’s where Jordan lived for much of his life, it didn’t start there.
First it was Germany, and then to Platte, next was West Chester, Ohio, and finally Waco, Texas. As Jordan moved from home to home, the quickly acquired friends with Ohio accents soon became friends with a Texas twang. High school allegiances changed, cities changed, and friends changed, but the only thing that remained constant for Jordan was family and football. It’s the life of a military brat, and with no option he accepted it, handling a hardship that would be tough for anyone.
“You go to four high schools, in three years in four different states, whether you are a football player or not, that’s going to be challenging,” Jordan’s father, Bill Darling, said. “It’d be challenging for anyone, it’d be challenging for adults. You know I think it has helped him actually, the experience has made him stronger not weaker.”
Finding himself in Ohio, enrolled in Lakota West high school, then sophomore Jordan worked himself into the starting job at quarterback. Despite only playing eight games, Jordan threw for 1,083 yards and seven touchdowns.
With each move, Jordan’s already strong arm grew and that 6’1, 205 pound frame as a freshman transformed into a 6’4 230 pound athletic specimen. With each added inch, college football programs interest in Jordan grew exponentially. First it was camping by invitation at the University of Oklahoma, and then it was the University of Florida and finally Ohio State – all in only the summer leading into his junior season.
Last fall in Waco, Texas, Jordan walked into a not-so-ideal situation. Headlining a three quarterback rotation, the team’s possessions were split three ways; with this, finding his rhythm with his receivers proved difficult. Jordan never complained as he not only led his team in passing yards but finished second in his five team district with 1820 yards and 16 touchdowns but most importantly, his team was winning. Waco Midway found their way to the Dallas Cowboy’s Stadium playing in the state championship game against 4-time back-to-back champion, Lake Travis. In front of a crowd of 33 thousand, Waco Midway and Jordan lost 22-7.
As the season for Waco Midway was underway, Jordan’s father was also following Shawnee Mission East and Sherman’s battle with cancer. And as the year went on, the realization that they may be on the move once again became more and more real.
“Honest truth, I never thought I’d coach him, I never thought I’d coach him,” Sherman said. “Here I’m at Shawnee Mission East, he’s in Ohio or Texas or wherever he was going to be but over Christmas vacation his dad called and we started visiting about this that and the other thing and we just started talking about life. One thing led to another and before I knew it, he called me back and said ‘hey, how would you like Jordan to play for you?,’ And I said ‘I’d love it.’ You know I just thought he was messing around. And I didn’t even know if I was coaching, see I hadn’t had a scan since April 6th so if the cancer is back, I won’t coach… So then I told him the truth ‘guy’s I may not be coaching because at that time I was still doing radiation. So we just got to see what happens”
It was official. Jordan’s mother was being transferred to Fort Leavenworth and although it was still 36 miles away from Shawnee Mission East, the realization that Jordan may be able to play for the coach who for so long made him who he was couldn’t seem more real.
During Christmas break, Jordan and his father got their very first look at Shawnee Mission East and although Sherman coaching that season was still up in the air, they believed he would be there.
“He kept on saying, I can feel it, I just have faith,” Sherman said. “I said ‘Bill, I just don’t know if I’m going to be coaching.’ He said ‘I have faith, you’re going to be coaching, He’s going to play for you. That’s what he’s wanted to do forever, play for you.”
With the Darlings needing to move back into the Kansas City area, the news of Sherman beating cancer was all they needed for them to pull the trigger on moving into the East district.
“We got orders to come to Leavenworth and none of us knew whether coach Sherman would be coaching or not, so it’s not like we planned this,” Bill said. “Everything just fell into place, we had orders to come into Leavenworth. Chip couldn’t tell us whether he was coaching. The doctor hadn’t cleared him. Everything fell into place, the god blessed Chip and here we are.”
With the news, Jordan had found his final high school and on March 21st he got his turn to be in Sherman’s program.
“It’s not that Shawnee Mission East is the football capital of the world, he could play anywhere in the country,” Sherman said. “You could send him down to Florida; he can play in a big school anywhere. It’s just who he is.”
Standing at 6’4 and 230 pounds, Jordan gives the Lancers a quarterback that they have never had before. With 4.8 speed in a 40 yard dash, Jordan will be used running the ball in the same capacity that former East and now Colorado quarterback John Schrock was used.
“Jordan is a quarterback, he can throw it, he can run it, he does the mental part of it and all of that,” Sherman said. “Jordan’s best attribute may be his will to be successful and his will to work and his will to sacrifice.”
Having already received his first offer from Charlie Weis and the University of Kansas, Jordan hopes that his success in his senior season can only fulfill what people expect of him.
“I don’t want to be all talk,” Jordan said. “I want to prove on the field that I’m as good as people say and it’s not about me, it’s about the team. Football is a team sport and I’m excited to be a part of the team.”
Despite only being a part of the team for two weeks, Jordan has already been spending time going through workouts with next year’s seniors and his future targets, David Sosna and Conner Rellihan. With this jolt to the program, expectations for Jordan and next year’s team have been running wild.
“If you ask any high school football player period, they’ll all say they want to win a state championship and I’m no different,” Jordan said. “I just want to take it one day at a time and then as next year rolls around – we’ll take it one week at a time. We’ll just start off winning some football games and see where that takes us.”
For Sherman, coaching Jordan isn’t significant for the pursuit of another state championship, it’s significant because he can see out a kid who spent much of his young life dreaming of playing for him.
“My right hand to God, I just hope he’s happy, that’s all I want for him,” Sherman said. “I don’t care about awards, yards, wins; the kid deserves to be happy…Have a good time, enjoy himself and at the end – let him say it was a good experience and he had fun. Winning and all of that takes care of itself. I just want the kid to be happy, he deserves to be happy.”