FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Sam Darnold said he shared “a cool little moment” with his parents and sister after he was officially named the Jets’ starting quarterback. It was a victory for Darnold, but he’s looking for bigger ones.
He’s not the only one.
“We celebrate all wins,” the rookie quarterback said after practice Tuesday. “But I know that just because I get named the starter doesn’t mean that we won the game Monday night. It’s awesome and I’m really happy to be the starting quarterback. But I also know I got to go out there and do my job.”
Darnold’s job is to develop into the kind of quarterback who can end the Jets’ playoff drought – seven consecutive years – and eventually get the franchise and fan base its first Super Bowl since 1969.
There’s no doubt that Darnold senses he’s looked upon as a savior. But he’s only 21 years old.
When he leads the offense Monday night in Detroit, Darnold will be the youngest quarterback to start Week 1 since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. He appreciates that distinction but he also understands he’s accomplished nothing.
“I know that I haven’t done anything yet, haven’t won any games in the NFL,” Darnold said. “Knowing that I am young compared to all the other starting quarterbacks for me that’s just affirmation that I got a long way to go. I know I got to continue to work every single day and put my best foot forward for this team and organization and just go out there and be consistent.”
Darnold beat out 39-year-old Josh McCown for the starting job by showing good arm strength and mobility. His poise and maturity also impressed the Jets. Those traits will serve him well in the face of the grand expectations of the hungry fan base.
“I know it’s there,” Darnold said. “But I have a good support group. I have really good friends, really good family, really good guys in this locker room that I can lean on when everything’s happening. Whether it’s bad or good, I have a great group of family, friends, teammates and coaches to lean on.”
It all starts with his family.
Darnold said being named the starter was “amazing feeling.” The first call he made after Bowles informed him Monday afternoon was to his parents.
“They were excited,” Darnold said. “Mom was crying, as usual. My dad was just pumped for me. They said, ‘This is what you worked so hard for.’ It was a cool little moment there with them and my sister.”
Darnold said his parents will be in Detroit for his regular-season debut. He admitted he might be nervous that night. But Bowles isn’t worried about how Darnold will handle the bright lights, the prime-time game or the loud crowd inside the domed Ford Field. Darnold played for USC, after all.
“I don’t think it’s very difficult,” Bowles said. “He’s been playing football all his life. He’s not just coming fresh out of the womb and just grabbing the ball for the first time. He’s been in crowds. He’s seen crowds and he’s been playing football. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. He just has to play football. He’ll be fine.”
The always supportive McCown also is confident Darnold will be fine.
“He’s done a good job at every turn handling the things that we’ve been giving him,” McCown said. “I’m just excited for him and I’m excited for our team.”
This is just the beginning for Darnold. He said it was his dream to play and start in the NFL. But Darnold knows more is expected of him and from him.
“I need to continue to prove it to myself, prove it to my teammates, prove it to the coaches that I can play this game at a high level,” Darnold said. “At the same time I’m confident in myself that I can go out there every game and do that.”
He’s not the only one.