Devard and Devaughn Darling always intended to pour back into the community when their dreams of making it to the NFL came to fruition.
Even though life had a different idea than the Darlings originally planned, Devard is still carrying on that passion 20 years after Devaughn’s death. From their birth with Devaughn’s hand holding on to Devard’s ankle to long after Devaughn’s passing, the twins will always be connected.
“It really started between me and Devaughn, two boys from the Bahamas dreaming of making a difference in the world once we made it to the NFL,” said Devard, who along with his brother attended Fort Bend ISD’s Austin High School before eventually going to Florida State University and Washington State University and playing in the NFL from 2004-08. “That was our whole goal and dream, to give back to the community once we accomplished our goal.”
Devaughn died Feb. 26, 2001, during a Florida State football program off-season workout. It was determined his death was due to exertion, dehydration and Sickle Cell Trait (SCT), according to a news release from the As One Foundation.
Before Devaughn’s death, the twins did not know they had the trait. So after his passing, Devard helped start the As One Foundation in 2007 to celebrate Devaughn’s life and educate people about the effects of SCT. The As One Foundation is in the midst of its 11th annual Darling Dash run and walk fundraiser, which will be conducted virtually through the end of March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want to be that educational platform to the community when it comes to this,” Devard said. “It’s a huge task that we have, but that’s what we were put here for, and we’re ready to do it.”
SCT is not a disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But having it means that a person has inherited the sickle cell gene from one of his or her parents, and it can be fatal when paired with physical exertion and dehydration.
It is a blood disorder that’s most common among African Americans, according to the CDC. However, it can also be found among people whose ancestors come from sub-Saharan Africa; South America, the Caribbean and Central America; Saudi Arabia; India; and Mediterranean countries such as Turkey, Greece and Italy.
“(The Darling Dash) is a fun family event we do every year. Devaughn’s spirit is clearly there,” Devard said. “We definitely pride ourselves on feeling the love and feeling Devaughn’s spirit throughout all the events.”
Leaving a legacy
Along with education on SCT, Devard said the spirit his twin brother exuded is the inspiration for the foundation. He once received a letter from one of his brother’s former teachers at Austin, De Anne McGee, about how Devaughn often came to her class after morning football practice eating a honey bun – his favorite snack their senior year.
McGee had a rule that there was no food in class, and Devaughn would throw out his uneaten portion with a smile. The lesson to McGee’s students was that life is about making good choices, no matter the rule. And the fact that Devaughn always did it with a smile was just who he was, according to Devard.
“He spoke to everyone the same way, and made everyone smile,” he said. “If we were walking off the field and a freshman was walking by, he’d make that kid feel special. And they would walk away smiling knowing Devaughn just spoke to them. He just had the effect on people.” That spirit, he said, is what he strives to continue through the As One Foundation.
The foundation has given more than $100,000 in scholarships to Fort Bend County students, according to Devard, and given presentations on its Operation Hydration program at schools throughout FBISD. Operation Hydration is an awareness campaign that provides an annual training program for high school coaches, other athletic-related staff as well as student-athletes to help with earlier awareness of the correlation between sickle cell and lack of hydration,
“The Fort Bend community has been so great to us,” said Devard, noting the family moved from the Bahamas to Fort Bend County in 1994. “We just want to continue doing what we’re doing and support them.”
Originally set to run through the end of February, the virtual Darling Dash will now run through the end of March. Anyone can participate and register at asonefoundation.org/darling-dash-2021/. Registration for this year’s virtual event is $40, and people are encouraged to complete their run safely and responsibly concerning public health guidelines. The fundraiser annually raises between $30,000-$50,000 and goes toward scholarships and education.
Devard said he hopes to see support grow in the coming years. For more information on As One’s mission or to donate, visit its website at asonefoundation.org/.
“There are more people that need to be reached, and we want to continue to see that grow, because we’re putting that back into the community,” Devard said. “Fort Bend has had a major impact on our lives, and we always want to give back. (Devaughn’s) legacy will continue to live on.