TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Ronald Darby might be a household name if his name was mentioned a bit more often.
The sophomore cornerback is rarely discussed during games. Florida State’s secondary has been dominant all season, but Darby’s work tends to fly beneath the radar. Darby doesn’t show up too often in the box score, either. His 12 tackles are tied for 24th on the team.
The anonymity isn’t a knock on Darby’s talent, though. The problem is, opposing quarterbacks are terrified to test him.
“Sometimes,” Darby said, “I get a little bored.”
Darby has started eight games this season and has been on the field for the vast majority of Florida State’s defensive snaps, but only a handful of balls have come his way.
According to Stats LLC, Darby has been targeted just 22 times this season -- 29 times fewer than Florida State’s other starting corner, P.J. Williams. It’s a casual workload that illustrates the ample respect he receives around the ACC.
“They watch the film,” Lamarcus Joyner said when asked why teams shy away from testing Darby. “You see his size, you see his speed, his strength. He has everything you look for in a cornerback.”
Darby’s natural talent was obvious from his first days in Tallahassee last year. He wowed teammates immediately, and while he didn’t start a game as a true freshman, he was on the field regularly, recording eight pass breakups and 22 tackles en route to freshman All-America honors. He was named the ACC’s freshman defensive player of the year.
But all the momentum from his sterling debut season came to a grinding halt this spring when a groin injury required surgery and kept him on the sidelines well into the start of fall camp. Even once the injury was healed, the effects lingered. Darby’s blazing speed was diminished a tad, and in the early going, he was reluctant to test it.
Even now, nearly a full year after the surgery, Darby says he isn’t quite right.
“I’m still not 100 percent yet,” Darby said. “I’m still trying to get back. ... I got a lot better from the offseason until now. I run a lot better, cut a lot better.”
The improved fundamentals have more than made up for the marginal dip in pure speed.
Of those 22 passes thrown Darby’s way, two were picked off and just seven resulted in completions. According to Stats LLC, that’s the fifth-lowest completion rate allowed by any defensive back from an AQ conference. Of the four players ahead of him, three were first-team all-conference. Darby didn’t even get an honorable mention.
“He’s been locking it down,” safety Terrence Brooks said. “That’s all he can do.”
And if that effort hasn’t been enough to garner much national attention thus far, that could change on Jan. 6, when Florida State takes on Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship. The Tigers don’t throw often, but they’ve got one of the country’s top big-play threats in receiver Sammie Coates.
In fact, Coates and the Auburn offense might be a perfect test for Darby. The Tigers run and run and run, and just when a cornerback appears to be getting a bit bored with the heavy dose of the ground game, the deep ball takes them by surprise. But Florida State just so happens to employ a cornerback who’s used to battling the boredom and pouncing on those rare chances to make a play.
“That’s why I just practice hard really,” Darby said. “So we can be perfect on game day.”
And perfection on the biggest stage might finally earn Darby some of the attention he has deserved all season. Add in a few more weeks for Darby to strengthen that groin injury and rebuild his speed, and Jameis Winston -- Darby’s roommate and practice-field nemesis -- has a good idea of what might be in store.
“I honestly think Darby could be the best cornerback in the country,” Winston said.