Only a week removed from a three-day jail stint, rookie James Darling has two big challenges over the next six months.
First, he must impress the Philadelphia Eagles enough to earn a spot on their roster. Second, he must stay away from trouble, which has found the former Washington State linebacker with regularity over the past two years.
“Right now, I have no choice but to not be in bad situations and be more responsible,” Darling said Thursday as the Eagles gathered rookies and selected veterans for their first training camp sessions. “I don’t want it ever to be out of my control again.”
Darling’s run-ins with the law range from nearly comical to deadly serious:
In October 1995, Darling’s car leaves a Washington highway, and after being charged with driving under the influence, he pleads guilty to reckless driving.
In May 1996, Darling and some friends, trying to pull a prank on some former high school rivals, take a gum ball machine from a restaurant and put it on the rivals’ car. Spotted by a law enforcement officer, Darling receives a suspended 30-day jail sentence and is fined.
In October 1996, Darling borrows a roommate’s car, which turns out to have a stolen parking pass. He is charged with theft and gets a suspended one-year sentence and a year’s probation.
In May 1997, Darling, upset when he heard his fiancee had cheated on him with an ex-boyfriend, went looking for the rival. He didn’t find him, but he roughed up several other people and was arrested for burglary and assault.
It was the last charge that resulted in the jail time. Darling pleaded guilty and was given 35 days in jail, a year’s suspended sentence and a year’s probation.
He served the first three days of the sentence last week in the Whitman County Jail and will serve the other 32 after the NFL season ends, no later than Jan. 30.
Darling doesn’t blame others for his woes.
“What’s happened to me has been my fault and in my control. I take responsibility for that,” he said. “A lot of the times, it’s been being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I shouldn’t be in the wrong place. I should be smarter than that.
“Now, I have no more chances left. It’s pretty much do it or don’t. It’s pretty much an IQ test.”
The common thread in all of the incidents, according to Darling, was alcohol.
“What it’s taught me is don’t ever drink again. Nothing good happens for me,” he said. “That’s it. I’m done. I’ve had my last. That’s it.”
Coach Ray Rhodes acknowledged he has concerns about Darling, whom the Eagles picked in the second round of the draft.
But Rhodes liked what he saw Thursday.
“James had a good practice,” he said. “He moved well. He’s very instinctive and he made a lot of plays out there.”
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