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USC AT WASHINGTON STATE Saturday, 4 p.m., TBS

Bond of Brothers

Devard Darling starts anew at Washington State, playing in memory of his absent twin

October 04, 2002|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PULLMAN, Wash. — They always shared a room.

After all, Devard and Devaughn Darling had shared a womb, Devard emerging first and Devaughn right behind, his hand on Devard's ankle.

"I mean, sometimes I don't fully understand when I hear twins say, 'Oh, leave me alone' to the other twin, or 'Give me some space,' " said Devard Darling, a sophomore receiver at Washington State. "That was crazy to me and Devaughn. It was like I was looking at him, seeing me. And that's the same way he felt about me. So it's like part of me is laying on the ground right now."

They were almost always together. And so Devard was nearby on the day Devaughn died, collapsing on Feb. 26, 2001, after a strenuous off-season workout at Florida State, where the identical twins were freshmen football players.

The Leon County medical examiner found no definitive cause of death, but noted the presence of a sickle cell trait that affects one in 12 African Americans and is linked by some studies to rare but sudden exercise-related death.

Devard, whose parents have filed a wrongful death suit against Florida State claiming errors by coaches and trainers supervising the workout, was alone for the first time in his life.

Even his birthday became a day to endure, though his family made sure to surround him.

"I remember the first birthday," Devard said. "Our birthday is April 16th, and you know, that's just a few months after he died. It was the first time in my whole life I had my birthday alone."

Watch Darling against USC on Saturday and see a player who says he no longer feels completely alone.

He is on the field again after transferring to Washington State and receiving clearance to play following exhaustive medical tests.

"It was something I'd been waiting for a long time," said Darling, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore who has 28 receptions and seven touchdowns in five games.

"At the same time, it was very bittersweet for me. I missed having Devaughn out there with me. It was a real emotional time for me before and after the first game."

Jason Gesser, Washington State's quarterback, watches closely.

"Any time he gets in the end zone or makes a play, it's like he wants to do something good, not only for himself," Gesser said.

Devard says he plays for two.

"Even though Devaughn is not with me, I feel it's something I need to do. For both of us.

"It just comforts me right now, knowing he's with me. I know he would never leave me like that. We just always had that communication, even if he was just going downstairs or going down the hall or something, he would tell me. I know he would never leave."

*

Following Devaughn's death, Florida State refused to allow Devard to play for the Seminoles again, offering to continue his scholarship if he wanted to stay in school.

"When I first heard some speculation like I couldn't play anymore, when some doctors were trying to tell me I couldn't play, it was like having two deaths," Darling said. "It was like taking away the two things in my life I loved the most, playing football and Devaughn."

Florida State, because of the pending lawsuit, would not comment about the case except for general counsel Richard McFarlain's assertion that the school does not believe it is liable for Devaughn's death.

"I think the doctors at Florida State, when something happened, just put up their defenses right away," said the twins' mother, Wendy Hunter. "They didn't even have the autopsy before they said he couldn't play."

As his brother did, Devard carries the sickle cell trait, a generally benign condition that was detected during routine physicals when the twins arrived at Florida State.

The condition, in which only one sickle cell gene is present, is not the same as sickle cell anemia, a more serious condition caused by two inherited sickle cell genes. But during extreme exercise, some studies say, the sickle cell trait appears to lower resistance to a possible irregular heartbeat.

The NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook addresses it, stating that athletes who carry the trait should be closely monitored but "no unwarranted restrictions or limitations should be placed on the student-athlete with sickle cell trait."

One twin was gone, but after a Houston cardiologist conducted a stress test, an EKG and other tests and found no problems, the Darling family supported Devard's desire to continue his career.

"It's not like [Devaughn] had some heart defect, just a sickle cell trait, not something you can't live with or play sports with," Hunter said. "So I have no fear about Devard playing."

Though Washington State wasn't his only offer, Florida State was not the only team that didn't have a place for him.

Among the schools Darling visited was USC, but NCAA rules generally provide only for an exam by a team physician during recruiting, and after no additional medical tests were conducted, the courtship went nowhere.

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