• John Macon Gillespie

First-Year HC Damien Darby "Excited" to Take Over at Leake County

Photo courtesy of Nekki Stiles

By the first week of December, Leake County’s Damien Darby will be wrapping up his very first season as a head football coach.

At that point he’ll be able to look back and reflect on a busy 12-month span in which he’s balanced growth in both his personal life and his career.

“It’s been incredible,” Darby told SES Mississippi. “It’s definitely been a blessing and I’m excited.”

In addition to accepting his first head football coaching position earlier this year, he also led both Leake County powerlifting programs to great heights. The girls won a 1A South state title, and finished fourth place overall in 1A, while the boys squad tied for first at 1A South State before finishing runner-up in 1A overall.

And even more recently, on Monday, July 23rd to be exact, he welcomed his third child into the world. Last December Darby turned the big 3-0, and was also happily wed.

“It’s definitely humbling, because it shows all my hard work is starting to pay off now,” He explained.

Darby replaces Gerry Anderson, who is now the principal at Leake County, after serving as assistant on his staff for three years - including the previous two seasons.

“It was definitely an honor to me. For (Anderson) to turn it over to me, I’m excited about that,” He noted. “For one, I’m kids-first. Every stop I’ve been, I’ve been about the kids. I’m a grinder. I work hard. My motto is that I don’t want to be outworked by another coach. That’s the mentality I have going into every day.”

That’s the same mentality Darby wore as a player in high school at Scott Central. Then eventually, for two seasons, at Belhaven. Which is where his coaching chops began to develop.

After playing running back and fullback for the Blazers for two years, he decided to step away from football and transfer to Southern Miss. At that time Darby had aspirations of becoming a meteorologist, not a football coach. However, as fate would have it, an opportunity to return to Belhaven arose for Darby in 2010. Then head coach Joe Thrasher gave him an opportunity to join the staff to coach running backs and assist in recruiting, which he did in 2011 and 2012. In 2013 he first came to Leake County as an assistant, for a team that would go on to win a district title. In 2014 and 2015 he served as offensive coordinator at his alma mater, Scott Central. He held the same role on the Gators’ staff for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

“I definitely feel like I’ve been lead to coaching,” Darby stated. “I started with peewee back in 2008. We had a team that won back-to-back state championships down at Southern Miss.”

“I had some guys on that staff that told me, ‘Coach, you really put your heart into this. This is something you should really do.’ I thought about it and was like well, I guess I should give it a try. That’s when I had an opportunity to go back to Belhaven and finish up.”

At each place he’s been, Darby has been sure to soak up as much a he can from the coaches around him. Many coaches he has coached with or played for have served as influences into the kind of coach he is on a daily basis.

“The first coach that comes to mind is Willie Heidelberg. I had him as a running backs coach when I went to Belhaven. Great, great guy. Never heard him cuss or raise his voice. That’s kind of how I take after him,” Darby explained. “I would also like to say coach Ray Caldwell. He was my offensive coordinator when I was at Belhaven. Great guy, you know, he was a grinder.”

“Going back to high school, I had three great coaches in Mickey Bounds, Mike Hendershot and Will Boswell. Those were some of the guys that I know I took some things from and just kind of made my own.”

Back when Darby was coaching pee wee football, he had a player on his team named Diwun Black. The same Diwun Black that was just named to the 2018 Elite 10 back in July. This season at Leake County, Darby has two impact players - Jaleen Morgan and Dontae Hudson - that can also boast being some of the top players in a special crop of seniors across the state.

“Those guys are great players,” Darby said.

Leake County returns 10 players on offense and another 10 guys who started on the defensive side last season. The Gators won six games but missed the playoffs in a tough region 3-1A a season ago.

“A lot of these guys have been playing together since they were in ninth grade. And they’ve played a lot of ball,” Darby explained.

“We had a pretty good spring. We had an outstanding summer. This summer has been by far the best summer that I’ve seen being around football as far as attendance, you know having kids want to come out and work. This team believes we can compete for district this year. We’ve just got to play the game on the field.”

Now all that’s left to do is sweat out the weather for his head coaching debut a week from Friday night. Which is something he almost ended up doing for a living. The interest for that topic still lives on in his spare time away from coaching.

“I’ve always been fascinated with science,” Darby said.

Leake County opens the season on the road at Leake Central on Friday, August 24th.

#LeakeCounty #JohnLukeMcCord

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