TEMPE, Ariz. -- There is a fine line between ordinary and extraordinary, and a lot of work to do to go from good to great.
Arizona State safety Alden Darby recognizes these facts, and his work on the field stands as proof.
“You need to do things other people don't do. You can't be normal,” the senior said.
And Darby is far from normal.
Whether it’s rallying his teammates on the sidelines, dancing around campus, or taking an interception to the house against USC, Darby has emerged over the last year as one of the most essential Sun Devils on the roster.
Last year, in his first season as a starter, Darby excelled. He made 80 tackles (5.5 for loss), intercepted three passes and racked up a pair of sacks en route to earning a second team All-Pac-12 spot. His play was a large part of ASU's remarkable improvement against the pass, going from 108th nationally in 2011 to third.
He also began to emerge as one of the team’s top leaders. After the departure of veteran captains in Brandon Magee and Keelan Johnson from last year’s squad, Darby has stepped up even more in 2013.
"You need to reach out and go beyond,” said Darby about leading. “You need to work out and study film when people are sleeping. When times get hard, people are going to look to you: ‘Darby, what do we do?' You want to be able to answer those questions for them. That right there separates you."
The vocal Darby has inherited the mantle as the defense’s heart and soul, but the Sun Devils will also need his top-tier play on the field if the Rose-y hopes coming out of Tempe are to be realized.
Johnson and cornerback Deveron Carr depart, leaving two large holes in the secondary that Darby now leads. With Darby holding down the boundary safety spot, several talented players, many of them newcomers such as Marcus Ball and Damarious Randall, will compete for the position next to Darby.
Despite being on the smaller side for the position—5-foot-11, 192 pounds—Darby compensates with great athleticism, giving him great range to make plays all over the field against both the run or the pass. He also has a nose for the ball, and his ballhawking ways helped the Sun Devils force the ninth-most turnovers in the nation.
ASU's fearsome defense will be headlined by Will Sutton and the front seven, but the play of the Darby-led secondary will be essential facing a pass-happy Pac-12 schedule. Sun Devil fans need only look to the 2011 season to remember how a faulty pass defense can undo a potentially great season.
With expectations and his own profile rising, Darby is maintaining his team-first outlook.
"It’s to do whatever it takes to get our team to the national championship and to the Rose Bowl," said Darby. "I don't want to play for any kind of stats. If I do whatever it takes and to get this program in the right direction, my stats will take care of themselves.
"My goal for myself is just to do whatever it takes, day in and day out, to get this team to win the Rose Bowl."