FULL SPEED AHEAD

Darion Dearinger (57) moves in to hurry Henderson County quarterback Sam Elliott in the 2019 season. (All photos by John Herndon)

Darion Dearinger embarks on a new journey, looking for God’s will

By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com

LAWRENCEBURG, Ky. — Darion Dearinger has earned the accolades. He’s received a level of recognition of which most football players cannot imagine. And Saturday, he’s leaving home to play college football at the highest level. 

But trying to get an understanding of what makes Dearinger tick, one just needs to look at his senior season at Anderson County High School. He just played.

He played through pain. He played through a season that saw the Bearcats come up short in all nine games. He played through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And he succeeded. No, make that he excelled in a manner that belies Dearinger’s quiet demeanor.

“I think actions speak better than words,” Dearinger smiled just two days before he was to leave Lawrenceburg for the next step in his life journey at Marshall University. It’s a story that Dearinger believes is evidence of God working in his life.

When he inked with the Thundering Herd, Dearinger became the first Anderson County football player to sign with a major college — commonly referred to as an FBS or Division I school — since 2012 and apparently only the fourth since the school was formed in 1949. That, in itself, is a major league accomplishment, but when one considers obstacles the fell in his path, things can legitimately be referred to as amazing. 

First, there was an off-season of uncertainty because of COVID-19 restrictions. When Kentucky high schools were finally given the OK to play, the season was pushed back by three weeks. While Anderson was never shut down, many schools had to cancel or schedule games on the fly. It wasn’t the best of situations, but compared to the alternative, Dearinger can only smile and say, “I was excited we’d get to play.”

Then there was the matter of learning a new system under a new coach. Anderson had parted ways with Mark Peach, the school’s all-time winningest coach, and hired Mark Palmer, who had been highly successful in Virginia. Dearinger says playing for both has been a blessing, but we’ll have more on that later.

On the field, the Bearcats were much different than Dearinger’s first two seasons. 

As a freshman, he was part of a team that finished 8-4 and upset highly-regarded Fern Creek in the opening round of the state Class 5A playoffs. The next year, Anderson did even better, going 10-0 and claiming district title. After earning a playoff bye, the Bearcats ran into perennial power Ft. Thomas Highlands. The Bearcats had some chances to win but came up short, 14-10. 

But the 0-9 campaign in 2020 actually extended a streak that saw Anderson drop its last five games after starting 2019 at 4-2. And it was a test for Darion as he was recovering from a torn meniscus, suffered in Anderson’s playoff opener at Boyle County. 

Living up to his reputation of being driven by a full-throttle, non-stop motor, Dearinger was back in the Anderson lineup when the Bearcats kicked off the season against eventual state runner-up Franklin County on Sept. 11. 

And Dearinger broke his left hand. “We didn’t figure it out until 2 or 3 weeks after the last game,” he says. “I kept thinking it was bruised and it would get better, but it kept getting worse, especially at the end of the year.”

Despite all the setbacks, Dearinger was named first team all-state by the Commonwealth’s coaches and signed with Marshall — he’s right-handed so the injury didn’t hinder his writing — where new coach Charles Huff and his staff see Dearinger most likely vying for playing time at defensive tackle.

That suits Dearinger just fine. While he’s played linebacker, tight end and in the offensive line, he’s most comfortable on the defensive side of the trenches. “It’s just pretty much where I have played my whole life,” he says.

At 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, Dearinger is a tad bigger than the 18 returning linemen listed on Marshall’s roster but a bit smaller than some of the big names in the FBS.

Don’t sell him short. While Dearinger has excelled since the youth leagues, he believes his path has been paved by the God he loves and the best way to serve Him is simply doing the best he can in all facets of life.

It was just before his freshman year that Dearinger believes his Christian walk began to change. He says he’s always been in church but things started coming together and the change was total. “I had some teachers and coaches talk with me about it,” Dearinger says of his Christian walk. “It seems like my whole character changed. I went from getting like C’s and D’s to all A’s. Spiritually, everything just became a lot more personal,” he recalls.

Part of the influence came from coaches such as Anderson Middle School football coach Brian Holloman and former AMS basketball coach Ken Fenwick. Dearinger says both had prayer times with their teams. When Dearinger became a Bearcat, both of his coaches, Peach and Palmer, stressed a walk with Christ. Dearinger says he has been fortunate to work with all. 

And when asked about mentors, Dearinger quickly answers that his parents, Sandie and Justin Dearinger along with some of their friends have been huge influences. He also credits his minister at Ninevah Christian Church, Terry Cooper, as being a role model. 

“One of my favorite scriptures is Deuteronomy 6:5,” Dearinger says. “It says, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.’”

And Darion Dearinger lives that. On the field he wreaks havoc, leading Anderson with 79 tackles, 24 of them for losses in nine games last fall. He was also credited with 8 quarterback sacks. A four year starter, he accumulated 239 tackles in statistics provided to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.

There’s no jawing or trash talking. Just getting the job done.

On the practice field it was the same and in the weight room, he pushed himself to the point of bench pressing 355 to 360 pounds and squatting 530. 

“Darion did not use words but rather actions,” says Palmer, who only coached Dearinger for one year. “In the weight room no one worked harder and on the field whether it be the practice field or the game field he was 100 percent on every play. His teammates respected that and I think wanted to play harder because of his effort. 

“I have never had the pleasure to coach a young man that was such a terror on the field and a true kind gentleman off. As great of a football player as he is Darion is even a greater person.”

Dearinger admits it wasn’t easy when the normal talent cycles that most high schools experience left the Bearcats struggling in 2020.  Playing against a tough schedule that was made when Anderson was routinely cracking the statewide Top 10 rankings, the Bearcats saw their margin of defeat in double figures seven out of nine games last fall. “I tried to play every play like it’s my last play, but it’s really hard,” Dearinger says of continuing to drive for excellence.

But he persevered. 

And now Darion Dearinger will be part of a program with a rich history while he studies ecology or some form of animal or wildlife science. Marshall has a pair of NCAA Division 1-AA (now FCS) titles and 13 conference titles. The Herd has participated in bowl games 9 of the last 12 years, including the last four.

But the school is most well-known for the 1970 Southern Airways crash that killed 75 people, including 37 players and 5 coaches as they returned from a game at East Carolina. The tragedy was later the basis for the movie, “We Are Marshall.”

“The crash is a big part of (the program”,” Dearinger says, “not just the football team but the whole community. When I was there my junior year, I heard them tell the seniors who were there for their official visits they were going to take them to the memorial and to the fountain.”

The Marshall history is both rich and reflective. And the future is bright for Darion Dearinger. He dreams of playing in the NFL, but says “if that’s what God wants me to do. 

“It’s whatever God wants.”

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