Two summers ago, Darius Minor was back-peddling down the field at a football training camp in Virginia when the then-16-year-old turned suddenly and then fell to the ground.
It was bad.
Minor, a junior standout for the Orange County High School football team, had torn his ACL — an injury that would bench him for the entire season, robbing him of a chance to gain the attention of college recruiters who would bring him closer to his dream of playing for the NFL.
His coach, Jesse Lohr, said he checked in with Minor throughout the season to make sure his star athlete wasn’t depressed. However, it only inspired him to work harder to become faster and stronger during his senior year, said Brandon Martin, his best friend and former teammate.
In November 2017, Minor became the first Hornet in recent memory to get recruited to a Division 1 school for football — to the University of Maine, Martin said.
But at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, Minor collapsed and died about 15 minutes into preseason practice for incoming freshman on UMaine’s field in Orono. It is believed to be the first time a UMaine football player has died during a workout since the program started in 1896.
His abrupt death, the cause of which has yet to be determined, stunned both the UMaine campus and central Virginia community that Minor called home.
“This guy was a freak of nature. Healthy as a horse. He could do anything. It was mind-boggling,” Martin, 18, said.
Minor stood out for his natural talent, but he worked like he had “a chip on his shoulder,” said his friend, who explained Minor chose to come to UMaine because the team carried themselves like they had something to prove.
“He used to do more than just execute,” Martin said. “Say a guy missed a tackle? Darius was the guy that would hawk him down and tackle him.”
And around Locust Grove, his rural Virginia hometown, located about halfway between Washington D.C. and Richmond, Minor was a role model for reasons that went beyond football, said Eugene Williams, the assistant principal at OCHS when Minor was a student.
He had an unassuming confidence and quiet determination that gave him a “star power,” Williams said. “People either knew him, or knew of him.”
He was cool but approachable and put people at ease. “His biggest contribution was the way he made folks feel around him,” he said.
“That’s how we portrayed him in this small town. He was like our Michael Jordan, or Lebron James,” Martin said. Kids hung his autograph on the wall, he said — Martin’s younger brother is one of them.
Outside of sports, Minor — who at 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, also played soccer and basketball — participated in a school mentoring program for younger kids.
But mostly, Minor spent his free time hanging out with friends, especially Martin and Jordan Shook. Around his close friends, Minor flexed his sense of humor and wasn’t afraid to get competitive, mostly on the basketball court or while sparring about politics. Minor was set to be a political science major at UMaine.
He didn’t back down in arguments. “He always wanted to get his point across,” Martin said, but added he was never cocky.
The three liked to pile into a car and head 30 minutes to Fredericksburg, the biggest nearby city. There, they’d eat at Taco Bell or Chick-Fil-A, and snap photos of themselves for their Instagram accounts with Minor’s mom’s digital camera. Minor talked a lot about his legacy and his destiny. He liked documenting it in photos.
He also loved the Canadian rapper Drake, who wore a lot of big winter jackets, so Minor did, too.
A chance to wear those jackets could explain why Minor picked a faraway college based in Orono, Martin joked — but the Black Bears also offered him a full scholarship.
“I wasn’t surprised when he chose Maine because he was his own man,” Williams said. “Any school that has a blue collar [ethic], that has a work ethic — I’m not surprised he would’ve chosen [it].”
Martin said the last time he saw his best friend was on the Fourth of July, when he bought Minor two Taco Bell quesadillas as a send-off before he headed to Maine. They planned to see each other again this weekend, as Minor had planned to make a short trip back to Virginia on Friday.
Minor was so busy at UMaine — playing football and taking a summer course — that when he caught up with Martin over the phone last week, there was little reminiscing about home, Martin said.
“He told me how college football is different than high school football,” Martin said. “‘This is a whole different story man,’ he said. … ‘But I’m good though. My mentality is right.’”
The last time they connected was Tuesday morning, when Minor sent Martin a text. A few hours later, around 2 p.m., Martin said he started getting a series of frantic texts about Minor’s death.
Martin tried not to believe them for as long as he could. “It had to come from his mother,” he said.
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