Sharper, Darren Mallory 1975–
Darren Mallory Sharper 1975–
Professional football player
From high school football fields to college stadiums, Darren Sharper appeared to have an uncanny ability to defend against those aspiring to catch a thrown pass. But when he was drafted by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, Sharper found himself on a different stage and surrounded by players who perform on an unfamiliar level. While it took some time to make that adjustment—and being heavily criticized in the process—Sharper harnessed that energy and turned himself into one of the most feared defenders in football.
Born in Richmond, Virginia on September 3, 1975 to Harry and Pauline Sharper, Darren began to excel athletically. During high school and college, he gleaned skill and support from his family—his father excelled at Virginia State before a brief stint with the Kansas City Chiefs and his brother Jamie was drafted by Baltimore in 1997. Sharper was an All-District selection at Hermitage High School in Richmond. A gifted athlete, Sharper lettered in track and basketball. His efforts earned him an athletic scholarship to the College of William and Mary in 1993.
At William and Mary, Sharper set a defensive standard and earned an avalanche of honors, including placement on the Associated Press’ first-team and being named Yankee Conference Defensive Player of the Year. During college, he tied records for single-season interceptions (10), Yankee Conference career interceptions (24), as well as school records in career punt return yardage (500). His 486 career interception returns made him the all-time leader in both NCAA Division I-AA and the Yankee Conference. He was a three-time All-American and four-year defensive starter. He finished his senior year with 116 tackles, 10 interceptions and 11 passes defended.
Sharper was drafted in the second round of the 1997 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers, one of the league’s premier teams. Former Super Bowl Champions, the Packers sold out every game and the waiting list for season tickets was decades long. After honing his immense defensive talent at William and Mary, Sharper was ready to prove himself in the pro ranks.
According to statistical information found at www.n-fl.com, Sharper’s first season provided a valuable learning experience. His rookie campaign ended with two interceptions and three touchdowns. While not a starter in the secondary—sometimes the last line of
Born on September 3, 1975 to Harry and Pauline Sharper; one daughter, Amara. Education: College of William and Mary, degree in sociology 1996.
Career: Selected in the second round of the 1997 National Football League draft by the Green Bay Packers.
Awards: NFL All-Pro selection, 2000; first-team Associated Press, 1996; three-time All-American; Yankee Conference Defensive Player of the Year, 1996; East Coast Athletic Conference, first team; named National Division l-AA and USAir Yankee Conference Defensive Player of the Week twice in 1996.
Address: Home —Glen Allen, VA. Team —Green Bay Packers, P.O. Box 10628, Green Bay, WI 54307.
defense against a receiver and the end zone—he managed to play in 14 of the Packers’ 16 games. The official NFL website also showed that Sharper started all 16 games the following season, but did not record any interceptions. Sharper showed slow improvement in 1998, finishing the year with 89 tackles. Despite losing the NFC wild card game, Sharper finished that loss in San Francisco with three tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery. Despite the numbers, Sharper was still adjusting to the accelerated pace of the pro game.
Sharper’s 1999 season showed some improvement, but did include typical early career mistakes. His habit of missing tackles made him a target for criticism, and when the Packers finished the season at 8–8—a decent record for some teams, but unacceptable for a Packer program accustomed to winning—Sharper became the scapegoat. He would later be blasted in print and television media. According to the NFL website, Sharper recorded three interceptions for 12 yards in 1999. In previous seasons, Sharper split time between free safety and cornerback. According to www.packer-s.com, Sharper led the team in tackles with 113, three interceptions and “posted double-digit tackle totals in four games over the course of the year, including a season-high 12 stops in a rematch with the Buccaneers at Tampa.”
By the 2000 season, Sharper was ready to show opposing teams that throwing the ball in his direction could be costly. And if anyone knew that better, it was Sharper’s coaches. “He allows us to do things—matching up with certain personnel, covering a third wide receiver,” said Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell\on the Packers’ website. “He also has the range to go sideline to sideline and the deep middle third. He creates turnovers for our team. He’s an excellent cover man who has great range in the open field. And he’s shown that he can make plays as a stunt and blitz.”
He consistently displayed such ability in practice and routinely performed it in games. The 2000 season would be Sharper’s moment to shine. His breakthrough season, chronicled at www.packers.com, had Sharper starting all 16 games at free safety and leading the league with nine interceptions. He finished with 101 tackles for his third consecutive 100-plus tackle season and added a two-interception game against Arizona where he led the team with 11 tackles. For that he was named to the National Football Conference’s Pro Bowl Squad, a post-championship exhibition-style game involving the league’s top performers at each position.
Following considerable improvement, Sharper not only intercepted the football and tackled opponents, but did so at crucial moments, often deflating the momentum of teams otherwise poised to win the game. Sharper was partly responsible for a 33–28 upset win against the Minnesota Vikings late in the 2000 season. Late in the fourth quarter of that game, a Sharper interception yielded a 47-yard return, setting up the winning field goal. The week prior, Sharper helped Green Bay beat Detroit with a key interception to halt a Lions’ offense dangerously close to narrowing the lead. He added another seven stops in that game, preserving a 26–13 win.
After such a stellar season Sharper was quickly becoming a part of the NFL elite, one of the first names mentioned amongst top defenders in the league. Packers Defensive Backs Coach Bob Slowik, quoted at the team’s website www.packers.com, said Sharper’s road to NFL stardom was built mainly with a solid work ethic and focus. “The thing about Darren Sharper, it’s just a delight to see someone’s hard work pay off in such a large way. And that’s what it was for him. He’s just a tremendous worker and it was real nice to see it pay off for him in a breakthrough year. It is attributed to his preparation—his hard work started to pay dividends in practice and he started having success. The success created a great deal of confidence. His confidence grew and so did his performance. His tackling improved— getting to the ball—all those things. The guy was on a mission to get it done.”
Earning Pro Bowl status appeared to be somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy for Sharper, the result of a complete turnaround from his first two seasons where he faced criticism. In an article in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Sharper’s trip from mediocrity to success turned around in less than a year. “After a difficult 1999 season in which be became one of the public whipping boys for the Green Bay Packers’ drop t .500, Darren Sharper had the word ‘perseverance’ carved into his shoulder,” wrote Pete Dougherty. Less than a year later, the man who in 1999 was dubbed the worst tackier in the NFL by Fox TV studio analyst Chris Collinsworth was voted as the NFC’s starting free safety for the Pro Bowl. “Perseverance is something I really believed in,” Sharper told Green Bay Press-Gazette, “and it showed me I have the inner strength to continue to work hard and improve and do the things necessary and always have confidence in myself. I came in this year and didn’t worry about what everyone was saying and focused on playing football. The gratifying thing is that I accomplished my goal.”
The club rewarded Sharper for his hard work and commitment to winning. Following the 2000 season, the Packers’ front office signed him to a new contract, making him the highest-paid player at his position. “All-Pro Darren Sharper signed a six-year, &30 million contract Thursday that made him the highest paid safety in the NFL,” wrote Arnie Stapleton at www.sportserver.com. “Sharper’s deal includes a &7 million signing bonus and culminates a remarkable recovery from a bad 1999 season in which he missed 18 tackles and was a handy scapegoat for the Packers’ free fall.”
With a bulging bank account and escalated clout among his NFL peers, Sharper wasted no time establishing foundations and fundraisers in various communities. His numerous charities range from mentorship programs, to golf fundraisers, to football camps for kids. Additionally, he started an annual Thanksgiving event that feeds approximately 600 needy people per year at the Milwaukee Boys & Girls Club.
“My parents influenced me to give back because growing up I was never really given anything for free,” he said in an interview at www.sharperbrothers.com. “I feel as though I am blessed to be in the position I’m in. I can see how some people that aren’t blessed with certain abilities are put in tougher positions than others to make a living for themselves. Any time I can let them get a feeling, even for just a moment, of how I get to as far as being blessed and being important, I try to do that as much as possible.”
Additional information provided by the Sports Information Office of the College of William and Mary.
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