Darion Brown entered the River Ridge High School football program as an undersized freshman, barely tipping the scales at 100 pounds. He will exit as a school record holder and one of the Hawks’ top running backs.
Brown set a River Ridge single-game rushing record during the Hawks’ 52-27 victory over crosstown rival Timberline on March 5, gaining 345 yards on 24 carries with four touchdowns.
Not only was his total on the ground the most ever for a River Ridge player, it also marks one of the top single-game performances in the state this season.
Through the first three games this year, Brown averaged a gaudy 210 rushing yards a contest with eight TDs. He also scored three touchdowns during the Hawks’ 42-0 drubbing of North Thurston, helping River Ridge sweep its season series against its fellow Lacey schools for the first time since 1998.
“Darion’s become a student of the game,” River Ridge Coach Steve Schultz said. “It’s what you want every senior to be. He’s not just learning exactly what he needs to do, he’s learning how it fits within the whole picture. He just wants the team to win and will do what he has to do to make sure that happens.”
Tops on that list when he first entered River Ridge was to get bigger and stronger. “I was probably 65 pounds in sixth grade,” said Brown, who plays considerably bigger than his 5-foot-8, 160-pound frame. “I started playing (football) in sixth grade. I always just saw myself as a track guy and then one day my mom just drove me to practice. I didn’t want to play tackle football at first.”
Brown’s mom, a 14-year veteran of the U.S. Army, was persistent, encouraging her son to keep trying, a characteristic that has remained throughout Brown’s playing career. “His mom is a huge support system to him,” Schultz said. “She’s just onboard with everything he’s doing, always supporting him.”
By the time Brown hit eighth grade he was up to 95 pounds, still a ways away from the prototypical high school varsity running back who receives the lion’s share of the carries during a game, but things were certainly trending upward. “You just keep working at it,” Brown said about his dedication. “I know it sounds cliché and everyone says it, but you just have to put in the hard work and stay steady to get to where you want to go. Never falter.”
That meant countless hours over the years in the weight room and by the time he took over the starting running back role for the Hawks last season as a junior, the work had paid off with Brown rushing for 941 yards on 117 carries – good for an 8-yard per carry average – and 13 TDs.
“Pound for pound he’s probably the strongest kid I’ve ever coached,” Schultz said. “He loves the weight room. He’s a weight room magnet. Any time we’re open, he’s there. He didn’t miss a day this summer.”
Brown will take that same workhorse mentality to North Dakota next season as he will play for Dickinson State University. “They are getting a kid that will play his heart out for them,” Schultz said. “He just loves the game. I’m excited to see his success. He has talent, but it’s because he is such a hard worker that all of this is paying off for him.”
Brown joins a Dickinson State program that went undefeated in 2020. The Blue Hawks won their sixth straight NSAA Football Championship and finished the season 9-0. The team was ranked No. 12 in the latest NAIA Football Top 25.
Brown was one of three running backs signed by Dickinson State University head coach Pete Stanton for the 2021 recruiting class and one of three players from Washington, joining Peninsula High School defensive lineman Tyler Elliott and Toledo High School running back Jacob Marley.
“They said I could also see some time on special teams, returning kicks,” Brown said. “I am coming in as a running back, but there’s no guarantees. I do want to carry the ball though. Dickinson State is getting someone who is just going to keep working no matter what. When I get there I am going to do whatever I need to do to get on the field.”
River Ridge (3-1) will close out its shortened season against Olympia on March 19. The Hawks only loss this year came in a 22-21 setback to undefeated Yelm.