“It got me to where I am today,” Darden said. “Coming from high school, going into college and up until now it kind of played a big part. I kind of keep that on my shoulder. That keeps me going and keeps me motivated. A lot of times [I’ve been] working out with people not seeing that I’m still carrying that on my shoulder and still running that in my brain to help myself be able to become a better me each and every time I take the field.”
North Texas WR Jaelon Darden – Photo courtesy of North Texas
He has another source of motivation every time he plays. His late father, Manya Darden, passed away last summer before Jaelon’s senior year. Darden spoke on how he kept his dad close during this whole process.
“It definitely means a lot,” Darden said. “But actually it feels like he’s still here because I have a lot of merchandise with him on it to kind of keep him close with me. It definitely means a lot. We prayed about this, cried about this moment here, so it definitely means a lot. I’m definitely going to have to keep going and keep pushing.
“Throughout my four years at North Texas, my dad was sick. He was dealing with heart problems, so we kind of built a strong relationship over that time with me growing as a man – him being able to install certain things into me and be able to help me mature and become the man I am today.”
Darden will come into a situation where he’s expected to contribute on special teams with his 4.46 speed, and is open to the possibility of being the Bucs’ kick returner.
“[Returning] is definitely a strong [part] of my game,” Darden said. being able to catch those punts and being able to put the offense in the best situation possible. I definitely don’t have any problem with that. I feel confident in coming in right away and being able to help however needed.”
As a receiver Darden had a school record best 19 touchdowns in 2020 in just 19 games. Some players just have a knack of finding the end zone and Darden falls into that category.
“That has always been in me,” Darden said. “Putting points in the board and having the ball in your hands on offense – that’s the job. I more so pride myself on getting in there however needed or whichever way possible. No one is stopping me. I just have to get in there. That’s more so my mindset so I stick with that.”
Darden appreciates where he landed.
“I couldn’t actually ask [for] a better place to be,” Darden said. “To be able to learn from Tom Brady and learn from Antonio Brown, [Chris] Godwin, Mike Evans and all those other great guys [and] to be able to sit down and really learn, pick their brains and help myself become a better player means a lot. I’m really blessed for this opportunity and I’m thankful.”
Darden couldn’t contain his excitement of getting to play with Brady not long after the pick was made.