CHICAGO -- Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh could only choose three of his many talented players to bring to this week's Big Ten Conference Media Days.
One of his choices was Dowling Catholic alum Amara Darboh -- a rising star and a great story.
First, the football:
“I would say he’s our top receiver right now,” Harbaugh told hundreds of media at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place.
Darboh has 94 career catches for 1,200 yards with the Wolverines, all in the last two years. The first two seasons were tough: Limited action as a freshman (no catches, four tackles on special teams), then a foot injury that caused him to redshirt.
“My freshman year was kind of rough for me,” he said Monday. “The injury really hit me bad, coming back from that.”
But he thrived under Harbaugh and with former Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock a year ago, hauling in 58 receptions. In September, he earned official U.S. citizenship after 14 years in the country.
Darboh is originally from Sierra Leone, Africa, where his parents were killed in a civil war. He fled to the U.S., and with the help of a Christian group ended up in Des Moines.
He was legally adopted at age 17 and became part of the Dan Schaefer family. He starred at Dowling, and now he’s doing the same for a preseason top-five team -- and embracing the media spotlight.
He’ll also get to play a college game in Iowa for the first time this season, when Iowa hosts Michigan on Nov. 12. He stays in touch with current Hawkeyes and Dowling alums Jon Wisnieski and Ryan Boyle.
“Hopefully … a lot of family members come to that game,” Darboh said. “Playing in Kinnick is always loud. I remember going to games in high school. I’m looking forward to that game for sure.”
More from Big Ten Media Days:
- Chad Leistikow explains Iowa's life as the hunted team in the West
- What we learned about Iowa's Big Ten opponents
- Jim Harbaugh's quirks a good thing for buttoned-down Big Ten
- Media Days takeaways from Monday's sessions
- Depth chart breakdown: What we learned about Iowa
- Drake product Chris Ash tackles Rutgers rebuild
Monday began with a somber tone, as the Nebraska contingent was absent following the death of starting punter and local hero Sam Foltz. He and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler were killed in a car accident late Saturday night in Wisconsin, where they were participating in a kicking camp.
Grief and football is a pairing that Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald knows all too well. He was a new Wildcats assistant when safety Rashidi Wheeler died at practice in 2001. Then there was the sudden passing of then-coach Randy Walker via heart attack in 2006. Fitzgerald also remembered former teammate Matt Hartl’s lost battle with Hodgkin’s Disease in 1999.
“They’ll be looking for answers,” Fitzgerald said. “You rely upon that (football) support network. And then you look at the players and you ask them, 'Where do you want to go? What do you want to do to lift up Sam, to lift up the family?'
“Any adversity, no matter what it is in life, let alone football, can either separate you or bring you together."
Tracy Claeys is in his first year as Minnesota’s coach after repeated seizures forced Jerry Kill to retire in the middle of last season. While Kill survived, Claeys could relate to the emotional challenges of leading young men through a tough time.
“As long as every day you go to the office, you remember you’re there for the kids,” he said, “it’s easy to make the right decisions on how to handle that.”
We are … at a full 85
Penn State, which hosts Iowa on Nov. 5, seems to be on the upswing after the Jerry Sandusky child-sex-abuse scandal decimated the football program in 2012.
An initial reduction to 65 scholarships has been gradually restored to the full 85. Third-year coach James Franklin notices the difference, mentioning that there’s “competition and depth at every position, which we had not had. … When we got the job, we had nine scholarship offensive linemen.”
Now that number is 17.
Penn State scraped together four straight winning seasons after the scandal, but now expectations are growing with a full complement of players.
“Overall, I think this is an exciting and pivotal time for Penn State football,” Franklin said.