Redemption can be defined as the act of changing for the better
or making up for something. We all are guilty of human error and
mistakes, but few atone for those mistakes and reform. Darryl
Rankin is one of the few.
Rankin, a native Charlottean, who is commonly referred to as “D.J.”, is in the midst of his senior season at the linebacker position for the Johnson C. Smith University football program. He is no stranger to adversity or overcoming obstacles. It has been a roller coaster collegiate journey that includes him sitting out the first three games of this season awaiting clearance from the NCAA Compliance Office. Nonetheless, in the five games played, Rankin is tied as the team leader for forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.
After the seventh game of the season, Rankin was elected the CIAA Linebacker of the Week. He had two game-changing plays to secure a 35-18 road victory over Fayetteville State. First, he forced and recovered a fumble that he returned 95 yards for a touchdown. Then in the final minute of the fourth quarter, he intercepted a pass deep in Golden Bulls' territory to wipe out the last FSU offensive drive. Rankin also racked three tackles in the game.
With limited opportunities, he has stood out this season as a defensive presence for JCSU. Most likely because he has learned the value and importance of making the most of his opportunities.
Rankin played linebacker at Independence High for head coach Tommy Knox from 2001-05. During that time, the team won four consecutive 4-AA state championships with an unbeaten record of 77-0. He was teammates with 2009 NFL draft selections Hakeem Nicks (New York Giants – 1st round) and Mohammed Massaquoi (Cleveland Browns – 2nd round).
In high school, Rankin stood out as an elite talent on the defensive side of the ball. He was named defensive player of the game in the 2004 state championship game. That same season, Rankin earned all-conference honors and the defensive player of the year award from his team.
After being recruited by Division I programs like the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina; Rankin ended up spending a season at a two-year institution, Louisburg Junior College.
“Louisburg was fun, everyone was in the pursuit of getting to a bigger program,” explained Rankin. “I had a couple personal issues that affected me in high school and my grades slipped. That's how I landed at Louisburg.”
A couple of personal issues might be stating it mildly. In the span of a calendar year Rankin's whole world changed. First he dealt with the death of his grandfather, whom he had a strong bond with. Two months later, his parents filed for divorce. Later in the year, his father was severely injured with a broken back.
“It was a lot going on at that time in my life,” he added. “Football became my best outlet.”
Rankin excelled during his season at Louisburg and was offered a scholarship to Division II powerhouse Carson-Newman College.
“Carson-Newman had a top notch program, I knew I'd have a chance to play right away, and I wanted the experience of being away from home,” stated Rankin.
Carson-Newman is a historically Baptist liberal arts college located in Jefferson City, Tennessee. From 1982 to 2009, the program won 21 South Athletic Conference (SAC) Championships. Rankin attended Carson-Newman from 2007-09 and played in seven games as a true freshman. He recorded 14 tackles and half a sack in his initial season.
Unfortunately, before his collegiate career could really progress, Rankin encountered an obstacle. Longtime Carson-Newman head coach Ken Sparks (winningest football coach in NCAA DII history) ran a strict program in terms of discipline and expectations for his student-athletes, to include no partying during game week.
Rankin ended up getting suspended from the program for violating team policies. “I was spending too much time in the club and coach felt like I lacked focus,” Rankin revealed. “In actuality, I was partying a lot to take my mind off some rough news I received from back home.”
He was informed that his mother back in Charlotte had become seriously ill. The discovery really took a toll on him psychologically. Fortunately; she responded well to some medications and later received a healthy diagnosis.
Instead of giving up on football, Rankin decided to return to the Queen City and transfer to Johnson C. Smith University.
“Johnson C. Smith became a perfect fit for me,” he commented. “Being at JCSU allowed me to be near my mother, as well as play in front of my family, friends, and former coaches. Plus, I knew Coach (Stephen) Joyner because I always came to his summer basketball camps as a kid.”
Darryl "D.J." Rankin
One of his former high school coaches ended up being one of his current coaches at JCSU. Steve Shipp, the Golden Bulls' offensive coordinator, was the wide receivers' coach at Independence while Rankin was there.
“D.J. had an awesome work ethic and aggressiveness like no other,” declared Shipp. “He was aggressive on the field, in the weight room, walking to class; he was just aggressive in everything he did.”
Rankin's first season at JCSU was in 2010. He played in the first seven games of the year and then faced another setback. After a road contest against Virginia Union, he lost his temper and got into a disagreement with head coach Steven Aycock. The situation resulted in a second team suspension for Rankin.
“I was a hot-head and I needed to humble myself,” expressed Rankin. “I initially misjudged Coach Aycock for being too easy going. When in actuality, he's just compassionate; he's like a father-figure. He has an open door policy with his players and he expects us to conduct ourselves with discipline and respect one another as men.”
Rankin missed the final three games of 2010, but was given another opportunity to rejoin the team in 2011. However, before the start of the 2011 season, Rankin was forced to deal with a legal issue that revolved around improper conduct. He was eventually cleared of all charges, but he missed the entire football season in the process.
With just one year left of eligibility, Rankin prepared to make the most of the 2012 season.
“You can tell D.J. is even hungrier now than ever before, because he almost lost it all,” Shipp exclaimed. “He's a lot more mature and experienced. During the offseason, D.J. went hard in the weight room and even before the start of practice you'll find him off to the side stretching on his own.”
“I've fallen in love with the game again,” said Rankin. “Going through those challenges made me grow and gain an appreciation for my God given talent. I've become more disciplined to the game and more disciplined in life altogether.”
Rankin is working towards completing his degree in Sport Management this spring. He has career aspirations of entering the sports information field. Upon receiving his degree, he will carry the distinction in his family as a first generation graduate.
“Deep down, I'm a momma's boy at heart,” he added. “My mom gave me the best piece of advice, which was do not quit. After everything I've been through, she always told me to hang in there, don't just give up. God changes things quickly.”
It was recently announced that Rankin has been nominated for the 2012 Bronko Nagurski Trophy to be presented by the Charlotte Touchdown Club this December. The Bronko Nagurski Trophy has been awarded annually since 1993 to the collegiate football player adjudged by the membership of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) to be the best defensively in the NCAA in each division.
“When I reflect on my situation, I'm happy to still have an opportunity to play football and get an education,” Rankin acknowledged. “To sum it all up, it truly is a blessing to be back.”