Orleans Darkwa's mysterious disappearance result of serious injury
The sound was memorable. Orleans Darkwa remembers it resembling a gunshot.
It felt as if someone had kicked the back of his leg during the first drill of a rare Wednesday training session following a free-agent visit with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The former New York Giants running back looked down as if there was a problem with his cleats. These were his go-to pair. Perhaps they had reached an expiration date.
If only Darkwa, 26, had been so fortunate. Instead, it was the Achilles tendon in his right leg that couldn't handle one more step. It had snapped, and with it went any hope of playing last season.
"Yep, I knew it," Darkwa said last week during an interview with ESPN, the first time he publicly discussed the early-October Achilles rupture that kept him from landing on a roster. "That is when all the crazy emotions came out."
The floodgates opened when the usually reserved running back felt his foot sinking into the ground and looked down. He immediately knew his fate. The decision to wait patiently for the right opportunity with the right team wasn't going to pay dividends.
Darwka's season would be lost. He wasn't sure what to think about his future. At the very least, it would involve immediate surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation process just months after he had led the Giants in rushing during the most productive of his four NFL seasons.
He rushed for 751 yards and 4.4 yards per carry in 15 games in 2017.
"When that happened, I burst into tears," Darkwa said. "I was just screaming. I was like, 'This couldn’t have happened. I worked my ass off.' I was just screaming. It was a crazy day."
Darkwa went home that afternoon and cried again. The rare tears wouldn't stop.
It took a few days for his emotions to calm and for him to get it all together. He didn't tell his friends. He went underground. Unexpectedly, his name had mysteriously disappeared from the NFL rumor mill without a peep, even as teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers needed help at the position because of injuries.
Darkwa's social media went silent for a while. He admitted that even when it returned, he was careful about not showcasing the injury, at one point erasing a video that had his scooter in the background. Darkwa ignored inquiries about when and where he would sign with a team. It took about a month before he was even able to speak about it with friends, with former Giants teammate Shane Vereen among the first he told.
"I did go underground. I didn't know what to say," Darkwa said. "My parents saw how much I was hurting. We talked about it. They wanted to see where my mindset was at. After we talked, and we talked for a while, it was a collective decision to kind of keep it under wraps and see how the rehab went."
Darkwa had a fairly straightforward complete rupture of his Achilles. He's four-plus months out of surgery now, and his last checkup came with positive reviews. Darkwa began running last week and the expectation is he will be cleared for football activities during organized team activities in the spring.
"Everything is progressing great. He has had no issues whatsoever in the recovery progress," his surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Willers from Elite Sports Medicine in Nashville, said last week. "He's a great kid. Great family. Really nice people."
Willers believes there is a "really good" chance Darkwa returns to his previous form. Darkwa has been rehabbing tirelessly -- including therapy three or four times a week and working out on his own.
After months of being forced to sit around and soak in reality, Darkwa insists he feels "real good" physically and mentally. He's ready to get back to playing football. He missed it desperately and tried to fill his time and occupy his mind by reading and playing video games.
"When it's your passion, when it's something you've dedicated you're whole life to, you're going to miss it when you're not doing it," Darkwa said. "This was completely new for me sitting out and watching the games. It was gut-wrenching for me, because I didn't want to be there. You feel you should be out there showcasing your talents. That didn't happen for me."
Darkwa understands he's in a different situation now. The Giants offered a deal last offseason (well below what they eventually gave to Jonathan Stewart) and the Washington Redskins, New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills were among other teams that expressed interest. Darkwa doesn't quite have the same luxury to be as selective about where he lands and for how much this year. He's no longer coming off the best season of his career. He's returning from a serious injury and is concentrating on getting an opportunity in the league to show -- once again -- he can produce.
No regrets, though. It's as if he's back where he belongs. He wasn't a highly sought-after recruit out of high school. He went undrafted out of Tulane. He had to earn his way onto an active roster and eventually into the Giants' starting lineup.
The disappointing free agency and the unfortunate injury that followed are just the latest motivation to show he belongs.
"I always felt like I had to prove it. That hasn't changed," Darkwa said. "The chip on my shoulder hasn't changed. It has only gotten a little angrier if anything."