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, Minn. 鈥?Facing Gwynn Park High School as a cornerback for Potomac High School in 2010, Ronald Darby slipped and fell to the ground.A Gwynn Park receiver was caught up in a scrum of defenders. Darby figured his foe would get tackled, so he did not immediately get up.Then the opposing wideout broke away with a clear field to the end zone. Darby, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, stood up and sprinted. He caught the receiver 40 yards down field and stripped the ball loose.鈥淒arby had a chance to fall down, cross his legs, look at our kid get in front, get up and catch him,鈥?Gwynn Park football coach Danny Hayes told Capital News Service.Darby鈥檚 speed, which carried him to Florida State University and the NFL, was the main reason he stood out at the Oxon Hill, Maryland school. He was recognized as Maryland鈥檚 second-best class of 2012 football recruit and was one of the fastest high school track-and-field sprinters in the country.鈥淚鈥檓 just naturally fast,鈥?Darby, who still carries around his USA Track & Field backpack from high school, told a small group of reporters at the Mall of America on Wednesday. 鈥淚t鈥檚 in my genes.鈥漅elated StoriesExperience at Md. high school propelled Rodney McLeod to Super BowlNFL NewsTerp who won Super Bowl with Ravens now an on-field mentor to rising EaglesNFL NewsWhile Darby has endured injuries since then, his quickness helped him earn a starting role in each of his first three NFL seasons, now as cornerback with a team trying to win its first-ever Super Bowl. He鈥檚 recorded three interceptions in nine games this season on a defense that鈥檚 allowed 17 points in its two playoff games.The Eagles play the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.鈥淒arby is by far the fastest guy I鈥檝e seen in a high school uniform,鈥?Hayes said. 鈥淒arby鈥檚 gonna do what Darby wants to do.鈥滵arby said he always won suicide sprints when he started playing football at eight years old, claiming his quickness came naturally. When Darby was a freshman at Potomac, football coach Ronnie Crump said Darby ran a 4.31 40-yard dash, which led colleges to contact him and Darby every week.Coaches from different colleges bumped into each other at Potomac. Whenever Notre Dame鈥檚 coaches visited Darby, they鈥檇 call him 鈥渘itro鈥?to try to flatter him, Crump said.Crump usually develops plans for his players to try to make the NFL
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, but Darby was the only player Crump knew would play professionally from his freshman year.The only way Hayes tried to game-plan for Darby, who played running back and cornerback, was to force him into the middle of the field.鈥淵ou can鈥檛 even see Darby when he hits that corner and goes down the sideline,鈥?Hayes said. 鈥淚f you blink, you might have an 80-yarder against you every single time.鈥滵uring Darby鈥檚 sophomore season, Potomac played against Central High School on a muddy field after it had rained all day, so players could hardly run without slipping. The only offense that night came from Darby鈥檚 three punt returns for touchdowns. Crumb said Darby accounted for about 90 percent of the Wolverines鈥?yards in another game against Largo High School, scoring five touchdowns.During the spring, Darby dominated the track, winning the Maryland 3A state championship in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4×100 relay as a senior. He won a bronze medal in the 2011 World Youth Championships in Athletics, where the top high school track athletes around the world competed in France. Darby was one of six American men selected to represent USA Track & Field in a friendly meet in Japan in 2011.Potomac track-and-field coach Stan Mullins taught Darby a better sprinting technique and improved his knee lift for acceleration, which helped him in both sports.While using the leg press machine in the Potomac weight room one afternoon, Darby鈥檚 hip flexors popped up over his shorts and caught the attention of his teammates and Mullins. Darby had unusually strong leg muscles, Mullins said.鈥淲hen you have a kid that鈥檚 natural like that, the only thing you have to do is point them in the right direction,鈥?Mullins said, 鈥渁nd keep their head straight.鈥滵arby hoped for a longer career by playing cornerback instead of running back in college. But he also wanted to run track for a
option, which was one of the reasons he committed to Florida State.Darby looked up to former NFL cornerbacks Deion Sanders and Darrell Green, who also ran track in college. He wanted to emulate that speed. But he endured a groin injury entering Florida State, forcing him to focus on football.Darby still won the 2012 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. After nabbing two interceptions his sophomore season, he started every game the next year and won the 2013 national championship, a happiness Darby hopes to experience again Sunday.鈥淪uper Bowl will probably be more of a better feeling
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,鈥?Darby said. 鈥淭hat鈥檚 a lot harder than college.鈥滱fter Darby ran the seventh-fastest 40-yard dash at the 2015 NFL Combine, the Buffalo Bills drafted him with the 50th overall selection. He started all 29 games he played in and recorded a pair of interceptions over his two seasons there. In August, the Bills traded Darby to the Eagles for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round draft pick.Darby dislocated his ankle in the first game of the season and was carted off the field, missing eight games. Since his return, Darby鈥檚 helped bolster a position group that was one of the Eagles鈥?weaknesses in preseason.鈥淭hat鈥檚 a good thing that it happened early on, rather than later,鈥?Darby said. 鈥淚鈥檓 able to play through the postseason.鈥漈he 5-foot-11-inch, 193-pound cornerback will often play off his receiver, making it appear as if he鈥檚 not tightly guarding, then use his speed to intercept or knock down a pass. Darby will continue to lean on that skill Sunday, when the Eagles face Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, in the Super Bowl.鈥淗e鈥檚 got it all: Speed, quickness,鈥?Eagles safety Corey Graham said When Saints rookie receiver Tre'Quan Smith picked his jersey number, he had a choice between 10 or 18.
The number 10 held no personal significance to Smith previously, but he knew it meant something to fans in New Orleans.
Brandin Cooks, the Saints' first-round choice in 2014, wore that number until he was traded to New England in 2017. So Smith, never shy about discussing his own high standards, went with that.
"It meant a lot, what he did on the field when he was here," Smith said of Cooks
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, who had two 1,000-yard seasons in New Orleans and is now with the Los Angeles Rams.
"It just boosts the expectations of like, what I have to do. Because I know the guy who wore it before me, he was a great player. So, I want to be a great player."
The 6-foot-2 Smith is one of two receivers who could grow into significant roles in New Orleans' passing game. The other is Cameron Meredith, a free-agent acquisition who led Chicago in receiving two seasons ago before missing all of last season with a knee injury.
Smith unabashedly endorses the notion that he was one of the steals of last spring's draft when he was selected in the third round 鈥?91st overall 鈥?out of Central Florida.
Saints receivers coach Curtis Johnson said the 6-3 Meredith has the ability to give the Saints some of what they lost when the franchise's career receiving leader, Marques Colston, retired after the 2015 season.
"When you talk about red zone and third down, one thing you want to do is you want to have length" on the field, said Johnson, who also was Meredith's position coach in Chicago two seasons ago. "He has the skills to separate in small spaces. For big guys, that's tough."
Johnson said Meredith can play out wide, but is particularly adept at executing "seam" routes down the middle of the field as a slot receiver, particularly against smaller defensive backs.
"There's a lot of small DBs in the league, and you love to see him match up with small guys, especially in the slot," Johnson said.
Last season, Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn were the most productive members of New Orleans' receiving group; Thomas had 1,245 yards and five touchdown catches, while Ginn had 787 yards and four TDs receiving.
Both are back. But if Meredith returns to his form of 2016 鈥?888 yards, four TDs 鈥?and Smith develops quickly, quarterback Drew Brees could find it easier to punish defenses for shading coverage toward a particular side of the field, or a particular receiver.
Smith missed a number of offseason practices with a hamstring injury
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, but was able to take part in summer workouts Brees hosted in California.
Since camp opened, Smith periodically has been working with the first-team offense, and Brees has connected with him deep downfield already.
"He can run," Saints coach Sean Payton said, but offered only measured praise beyond that.
"He's making some good plays and then all of a sudden he's having a few plays that he's got to correct," Payton said. "His stance and start still need work, but (it's) something he's been focused on."
Meredith had reconstructive knee surgery a little less than a year ago. He'd been easing his way back into on-field work during the offseason. Coaches are still monitoring his snap count during camp, but when he is on the field, he appears to run routes without limitations.
"I'm out here practicing and felt good, so that's a good sign," Meredith said, adding that the opportunity to work with Brees is "amazing."
"He's such a leader," Meredith said, specifying that he has picked up on elements of Brees' preparation and work ethic that other players can adopt, regardless of the position they play. "He's very detailed about everything."
Johnson calls Meredith "smart beyond his years," explaining that the fourth-year pro "hasn't played much, but he's mature ... and having Drew on his side is awesome."
Even before Meredith got back on the field, he appeared to have made a good impression on Brees.
"I like talking to him. I like his attitude. I like what I've seen from his prior film. I like his size and his strength," Brees said earlier this offseason. "He fits the system well and I think we're going to be able to do a lot of things with him."
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