The teams didn’t have to run out of the locker room, the ball didn’t have to be tipped and the clock didn’t have to begin running before the opposing team’s coach asked the crucial and oftentimes unsolvable question: “How do we stop Darryl?”
Coaches knew if they were going to beat the Fayette County High School girls’ basketball team, they’d need to successfully gameplan against one of the most dominant basketball players in the county, Darryl Langford.
A majority of coaches couldn’t find an answer for the nearly 6-foot, 17-year-old Navy-bound athlete who grew up playing with older kids, always competing in a league above the rest of the basketball players her age. When she secured a spot on the varsity team in her first season at Fayette County High her sophomore year, it wasn’t long before she proved she was already prepared for the next level of competition.
That’s Darryl. Someone who is laser focused on the task at hand, so much so that “her eyes never blink,” says her high school basketball and track and field coach John Strickland, yet she’s always thinking about how to set herself up for a rewarding future.
For Darryl, whose father—also named Darryl—served more than 28 years in the Army, the reward is to keep challenging herself. Five years ago, Darryl Jr. began researching the Navy SEALs and found out the SEALs would start letting women join in 2017.
“I wanted her to go to the Army,” Darryl Sr. said.
Darryl Jr. had different plans, and once her father saw that her desire to attend the Naval Academy was based more on her willingness to challenge herself at the highest level and less to create a family rivalry, (her sister Brittanie is currently in the Air Force) Darryl Sr. couldn’t be more supportive of his youngest daughter’s dream.
As a child, Darryl’s family moved frequently, a result of her father’s involvement with the Army. She was born in California, eventually settled in Germany for a few years, and then found a permanent home in Fayette County at age seven.
The youngest of four children, Darryl never let her youth stop her from getting ahead. Darryl Sr. first noticed his daughter’s athletic prowess when she was four, playing basketball with brothers Chris, now 32, and Malcolm, now 23.
“She would keep up with them,” Darryl Sr. said.
On a recreational league basketball league in fourth grade, Darryl was placed on the boys’ team, where Darryl Sr. said she “held her own against the boys.”
A self-proclaimed “tomboy,” Darryl would spend time around her brothers and their friends whenever possible. She would often join them for airsoft in the woods and rockball, a complex sport comprised of throwing rocks at one another.
Despite being the youngest sibling, Darryl was independent. She taught herself how to skateboard and play guitar. There are three guitars in her room, and her mother Markgetta can’t tell the difference between them.
Just as Markgetta supports her daughter’s hobbies, she’s also learned to trust Darryl when she makes decisions because they’re never made in haste. Before seventh grade, Darryl decided she wanted to transfer to Woodward Academy for a more rigorous academic curriculum.
“Can I switch schools?” Darryl asked her mother. “This is the school I want to try because it will prepare me for what I want to do in the future.”
Markgetta couldn’t say no. Prior to the start of Darryl’s tenth grade year, she asked her mother once again if she could transfer schools, this time back to Fayette County so she could join JROTC, where her father is now the head of the program. The decision paid off on the basketball court as well, when Darryl started on the varsity team and helped the Tigers to reach the Final Four.
Making a Final Four as a sophomore was Darryl’s favorite basketball moment, but her favorite game came this past season on Jan. 16. Fayette County stunned 7A powerhouse Newton 72-59 during an invitational in Cobb County. Strickland remembers Darryl being “in the zone” during her 29-point performance.
“Wow!” Strickland said during the game. “Give it to her again.”
“She played with a motivation that I haven’t seen in a long time,” Darryl Sr. said.
“I was kind of upset because I could have had more than 30 if I had made my free throws,” Darryl Jr. said.
That’s Darryl. Someone who’s going to give it all she’s got, but still expect more out of herself when it’s over, even when everyone else is impressed with her effort.
And she’s not selfish either. In her senior year, along with her 17 points per game and nine or 10 rebounds a game, Darryl averaged five or six assists per game.
The combination of a tireless work ethic and a motivation to make others around her better was the perfect formula, Darryl Sr. thought, for a future as a Navy SEAL.
Darryl received the text from Markgetta in her automotive class last fall that she’d been accepted to Navy. She’d drawn interest from Wake Forest, George Washington, North Carolina and the Coast Guard Academy, but Navy was always her first choice. Darryl knows underclassmen in the JROTC program who want to attend a service academy as well, and she tells them, “You really have to buckle down on academics.”
Darryl is going to Navy to become a student athlete, and eventually, hopefully, a SEAL, but she’s still not sure how many sports she will play. She competed in track and field during her sophomore and senior years—taking off junior year to garner attention on the basketball court from Navy—and this past spring, she placed second in state in the high jump.
While Darryl figures out whether to be a one-sport or two-sport athlete, Markgetta thinks about what it’ll be like without her children in the house. While she’s going to be sad to see Darryl leave for Annapolis, Maryland—”You know you can’t go to every game now,” Darryl Sr. tells wife. “Why not?” Markgetta replies—she’s looking forward to some peace and quiet with all four children moved out.
“We’re ready for it,” Markgetta said.
The Navy SEALs isn’t for most men. Up until 2017, it wasn’t for any women. For Darryl, it wouldn’t matter to her if she was the only woman. That’s just the way she likes it.