At one point, it looked like football had bypassed Spokane Empire offensive lineman Darren Pinnock.
After completing his four years of eligibility at Morgan State, an FCS school in Baltimore, Pinnock worked as a field technician for Action Civil Engineering Solution in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he oversaw quality control.
But then he got the itch.
“I realized I missed hitting people,” Pinnock said. “One day I’m sitting in an office and I just got frustrated, and I’m making money, but that’s not what I loved to do.”
What he loved was playing football. So he left his job, connected with Empire head coach Adam Shackleford and joined Spokane for the 2017 season.
Shackleford and the Empire are glad Pinnock is on the squad. He’s been a consistent piece in an offensive line that’s been hit with injuries.
When starting center Kyle Fischer went down with a season-ending knee injury earlier this season, Pinnock slid inside to center, a position he never played before.
And he’s produced.
“He brings more of a versatility to the offensive line,” said Empire defensive lineman Harold Love III, who tangles with Pinnock frequently in practice in drills and scrimmages. “He’s got great agility, great feet. The sky’s the limit for Pinnock.”
His size doesn’t hurt, either. At 6-foot-5, 345 pounds, Pinnock is a load on the inside. But believe it or not, his start in football was as a skill player.
Pinnock has always been big. After convincing his mother to let him play Pop Warner football, he wasn’t allowed to play after weighing in at 130 pounds as an eighth-grader.
So he joined his church’s flag football team and was a Swiss Army Knife of a player. Pinnock played everything from quarterback to safety.
“I was just an athletic fat kid,” Pinnock said. “I was just going out there doing everything to be like the skinny folks.”
Eventually, Pinnock was allowed to play tackle football and slotted into his more natural position on the offensive line. He was a highly regarded player out of Miami-Palmetto High School and was courted to major schools such as Florida State, Georgia Tech and Marshall.
Poor grades and test scores eventually sunk Pinnock’s chances of playing at any of those schools. But Morgan State took a chance on him and worked with him on improving his grades, something he’s grateful for.
“I learned a lot from that situation,” Pinnock said. “I learned how to take control of a situation and take care of my responsibilities as a man.”
Balancing different aspects of life comes much easier to Pinnock now. In addition to playing for the Empire, he’s landed a part-time job at KXLY as a promotions assistant.
Football is his main passion and priority. His love for the game is exuded every time he steps on the field.
But the happiest Shackleford has seen Pinnock was when a fan handed him a piece of paper from the stands before a game at the Arena this season.
“He was in a mad search of Jamaican food,” Shackleford said of Pinnock, who boasts a strong Jamaican heritage. “And one of our fans handed him a (phone number) to a Jamaican food truck around here, and he lit up like a kid on Christmas.”
Between balancing football and his side job, Pinnock said he hasn’t had the chance to get out and try it.
But it’s on his to-do list.
“I’m definitely going to get out there and see what they’re talking about,” Pinnock said. “I’m due for some curry goat.”
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