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Tide signee Lake is big in size and in several other ways


Sumter Central High School’s Darren Lake, a 6-foot-3, 330-pound defensive tackle, signed to play college football at the University of Alabama. (Photo by Dusty Compton)


YORK | Darren Lake has always stood out. There’s still an oversized picture of his basketball team that went 21-0 hanging on the wall of the main gymnasium at York West End Junior High School. The young man with No. 50 on his jersey hardly looks like a seventh-grader. His teammates look like grade-schoolers by comparison.

Even this fall when he gets ready to suit up for the University of Alabama, Lake will be bigger than most of his teammates. The 6-foot-3, 330-pound signee is expected to compete to plug the middle of the defense at nose guard, but he played three defensive positions, including offensive line and power back in high school.

"Wherever the coach wants me to be at, where he thinks I’ll do good at, that’s what I’ll play," Lake said.

Stoney Pritchett has known Lake since he coached him in basketball when Lake was in seventh grade. Pritchett coached Lake again last year as the secondary and special teams coach at Sumter Central High School.

"The first time I met him, he was raw," Pritchett said. "He’s always been bigger than the rest of his classmates."

It was Lake’s work ethic and attitude that helped him go from great athlete to elite football prospect.

"He worked his butt off this year just to get where he is today," Pritchett said. "He’s a beast in the weight room."

Beyond the playing field, Lake is known for being a good student and citizen.

"Darren Lake has been an excellent student here," Sumter Central Principal Eric Hines said. "He’s a great kid. He’s a humble kid."

Former Sumter Central football coach Andre Pickering said Lake scored a 26 on the ACT and has a 3.5 GPA.

"He’s not only a leader on the doggone field, he’s a leader inside the classroom, in the hallways, and he’s also just a very special person," Pickering said.

Peer pressure sometimes gets the best of high school students, but Lake’s mom stays on him about his grades. Lake credits her with constantly reminding him grades lead to success in life.

"Helping out in the community, that’s all I do. If I see a lady over here and she’s in her 80s, I’ll go cut her grass, no charge at all, just to help out to keep our community clean," Lake said.

Football is definitely more than just a game for Lake.

His dad died when he was 5, and since that time he has sought out male role models. Around the fifth grade, Lake found a positive outlet in the form of sports. Being the leader on small-town sports teams with few resources built character and helped Lake mature.

"Without football, there’s no telling where I’d be at now," Lake said. "Football helped me come up from a little boy to a young man. I let these coaches be my father. Football has kind of been like a parent to me, too, and it helped me become a better person than what I am."

Pritchett said Lake’s father’s death helped build his superb work ethic.

"His dad passed at a young age, and he kind of knew he had to go out there and work his tail off at sports and athletics and academics to be successful, and he’s been doing it these last past four years here at Sumter County," Pritchett said.

When Lake played under Pritchett in the seventh grade, Pritchett became somewhat of a father figure for Lake and his younger brother, Terrence Hinson.

"His mom told me that his dad died and that she wanted me to be a positive influence on his life, so any time he had any problems or anything going on in the house, he’d call me or his mama would call me. I’d go over there and try to settle the problem. I stay on him. I ride him. I ride him real hard."

Pritchett hasn’t had an easy road through life, either. That might explain the deep bond between him and Lake.

"About the same thing happened to me, too," Pritchett said. "I was raised in a single-parent household myself as well. Going into my sophomore year in college, I played football at West Alabama. My mom passed my sophomore year. I had just turned 19. I knew, I told myself, ‘Well, Stoney, you gonna have to finish school and take care of yourself.’ Ever since then, I’ve just been taking care of myself and handling my business."

Lake said staying close to his family was a factor in committing to Alabama.

"I want my mama to be ... she’s closer to the games and I want her to go to the games and see me play."

Pritchett believes that was definitely a draw.

"Family is important," Pritchett said. "I know Coach (Nick) Saban is preaching family as well. That’s going to be a big thing for Lake. He loves his brother and his siblings. He’d do anything for his family. He’s going to fight for his family. He wants to succeed so he can take care of his family right now. That’s why he’s going to be successful, I think, in football. His family, they’re not able to do everything. They’re not as fortunate as everybody else, but he knows he’s going to work through football to be successful to be able to take care of his mom and his brother and sisters."

Lake said the coaches at Alabama are not only great at the game of football, but they treat players like family.

"I liked the coaches and (strength and conditioning) Coach (Scott) Cochran and all the coaches, how they were pushing players. So I committed to Alabama because of the coaches and the people I was surrounded by in that environment. They were good people. They treat you like family up there."

The big defensive tackle is looking forward to improving his technique.

"I’ve never really had a defensive line coach, a position coach to teach me how to play the position I’m at now. Coach (Chris) Rumph, he’s a good position coach. So he can help me become a better player than what I am now."

Tennessee made a strong push for Lake, but he just felt at home at Alabama.

"After I came from Tennessee’s camp, I had seen how their school was and then I went to Bama’s camp right after I came from there," Lake said. "Bama’s camp was a whole lot different, and I felt more comfortable there than I felt at Tennessee."

Lake is setting a precedent for his family.

"I’m the first one out of my family that’s going to a four-year college," Lake said.

And if what Lake says is true, he won’t be the last either. Younger brother Hinson might be even better.

"He’s more of an athlete than I am," Lake said. "He plays basketball, baseball and football; plays golf if you want him to."