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TNIAAM chats with former Syracuse football star Donovin Darius

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The Orange alum is part of the new American Flag Football League’s Board of Advisors.

Donovin Darius

After a standout career with the Syracuse Orange(men), Donovin Darius went on to have a long stay in the NFL as well. But since his playing days ended, the former Big East defensive player of the year (1997) has been plenty busy.

Along with the Donovin Darius Foundation, which partners with Jacksonville, Fla.-area no-profit organizations to equip local young people and families with necessary life skills, he also works with the NFL Players Association Executive Committee. With the NFLPA, Darius helps players transition into and out of the league — something that complements his newest venture pretty well.

Darius is on the Board of Advisors for the newly-formed American Flag Football League, along with fellow former Big East stars Rob Konrad and Michael Vick. He chatted with TNIAAM last Friday about the AFFL, SU football and more.

How was your experience coming back to Syracuse as a graduation speaker for the School of Education?

It was a great experience. The number 20 is significant for me. It was my number through high school, at Syracuse and as a pro. I graduated in 1997, so it’s been 20 years since I left SU. To be able to come back 20 years later and speak to the outgoing leaders of tomorrow, and share my experiences and stories; it’s a privelge and honor to come back and reconnect with University.

Please tell us a bit more about the Donovin Darius Foundation.

The Donovan Darius Foundation partners with non-profit organizations for life camps. We work with young people and parents to give them necessary life skills. In the last six years, we’ve had 23 life camps with 250-300 participants apiece. We come to the local community and build them up with motivation.

In Jacksonville, we work with 20-30 organizations that provide family services, so it’s a wraparound program in every area that they need. The foundation is a bridge for families and organizations to work together. Our fifth annual Mother’s Day camp (was Saturday), featuring 130 mothers and 260 kids.

I’m just happy to lend my time, talent and network and put it to good use for the local community.

Obviously your old team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, looks a little bit like “Syracuse South” this year. Have you spent any time with Coach Marrone or Tom Coughlin at all?

Sure have. I may be more excited than the actual players. Coach Marrone brings a high level of accountability, discipline and expectations. That’s what was missing for the team in the last several years. When he arrived, I sat with Coach Marrone to talk about the culture in Jacksonville and what it was -- and what it can be moving forward. He and I share the same belief: you build the man, then the player comes after. It happened at Syracuse, and it’ll happen there. I’m excited and optimistic this new leadership will turn it around.

How did the American Flag Football League form, and how did you get involved?

The league was started by Jeff Lewis, who has a son and he plays flag football. He was thinking how much better it would be to see players like his son grow up and dream big as a pro. The AFFL creates an opportunity for people to fulfill their dreams.

More people can associate with flag football than tackle, and what playing that game’s like. I played a lot of flag football and two-hand touch growing up. The league builds on the fact that football fans should have an entertaining product featuring elite athleticism. We’re bringing impressive players and new technology to fans, being able to follow the action via mobile. The league bring about the trends of today, while also building on the successes of the past.

I joined because my role for players right now is about trying to help them fulfill their purpose and find out what they’re passionate about. This gives guys opportunities to extend their careers and for fans to be part of that as players and viewers.

The average joe, who has a flag football league somewhere now have a chance to go up against teams of elite college players and NFL players for a million dollar prize. Think about the NBA and how well it’s known with fans. You get to know them, see players’ character and rivalries develop. We get that with players going both ways in this league, while letting fans see this high level of play through technology.

Syracuse v Miami Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

What was your favorite game you played in at Syracuse – or your favorite opponent to play against?

Miami. You always had an asterisk next to that game. Because we had severel guys from Florida, it always took on some extra meaning. You measured your season by how you did vs. Miami. I remember we beat them in 1997, then blew them out in 1998. It was a nice little rivalry. That game (1997) stands out as one my best experiences at Syracuse.

I’m gonna look at schedule for Syracuse’s game at Miami this year, because I’d love to head down if I can.

The ACC has definitely upped SU’s competition and the talent level they’re up against. At same time, it’s a great opportunity. The team may not be on that next level, but an individual player gets a chance to stand out. Scouts see you perform well against great teams and it helps your stock.

The Syracuse secondary was not great last season. What did you notice last year that needs to change?

Whenever you’re building a skyscraper, you need a foundation. When you come in, you have players from old establishment. Coach Babers has chance to vet out the guys that don’t work and bring in the players that do. When you’re patient, you may not hit the level of execution you want right away. But passion and messaging improves over time, and the players will too.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

What’s your overall outlook for Orange football this year? Have you been around the team? Talked to Coach Babers at all?

A month or so ago, I spent some time with Babers at Manley Field House. I got to hear his heart, hear the state of the team, where it’s going. I always open myself up to be of service for program. I’m both optimistic and realistic about the team. It’s a young team, so you have to gradually build in more and more expectations, dispcipline and accountability. Most importantly is the need to be consistent. It’s not wins and losses. Are you consistent?

It’s amazing what happens when you buy in. You see it all the time: a team looks over-matched on paper, but heart, will and commitment helps underdogs shock the world. You may not expect much of this year’s team because of how young they are, but leadership could guide them to some surprising results.

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Thanks again to Donovin for taking the time to talk about Syracuse, the AFFL and more. The first AFFL game is on June 27 in San Jose, and will be streaming for fans, too. In 2018, will be the eight teams of former college and pro stars will be going against eight teams from qualifying rounds throughout the country.