By Gabriel Stovall
MORROW, Ga. — Excuse Erika Dargan for walking around the Morrow High campus with a little extra swag last week.
Dargan signed a softball letter of intent to Benedict College in Columbia, SC last Wednesday during Morrow’s signing day ceremonies. But a lot of people were signing letters of intent across the Southern Crescent during the Spring signing period last week, so what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that Dargan’s fortune doesn’t happen very often for Morrow softball players. In fact, Dargan is the first person from the Lady Mustangs program — at least in the last 10 years since Candice Jones has been coaching it — to sign a LOI while still enrolled at the high school.
And the enormity of the accomplishment was not lost on her.
“I mean, it’s big,” Dargan said. “It’s really big because I go down in history here. I felt real cool to know that.”
Morrow softball won’t get counted among the powerhouses of the Southern Crescent area — or even Clayton County. The Mustangs finished the 2014 season with a 6-11 overall record and 3-9 mark in the juggernaut that is Region 4-AAAAA.
And while Clayton County softball as a whole is often known more for its futility than success, Dargan is proof that pockets of good, high quality players exist in the county.
Dargan’s coach will be the first one to let you know it, too.
“Ericka’s a great leader, great scholar and a great player,” Jones said. “Of course she’s a player that plays all year round. She’s got lots of good skills. We can put her anywhere on the field that we need to, and she can probably play for anyone around here. She’s just a great ball player with a great attitude, and I’m very proud to say that I was her high school coach.”
Jones said she slotted Dargan into the infield primarily, but on her travel ball team, the Browns Mill Lady Jackets, Dargan showcased her versatility by excelling in the outfield.
That versatility can be attributed to Dargan’s familiarity with the game. Unlike some Clayton County high school softball players who sometimes come to their high school ball clubs with little to know previous competive experience, Dargan came to Morrow after having been around the game of softball as long as she can remember.
“I was very much younger when I started playing,” she said. “Softball is life. That’s how it’s always been for me.”
That’s why Jones calls Dargan a coach on the field. She says her unselfishness with sharing her ability and softball acumen sets her apart from other gifted athletes.
“Softball is a skill sport. That’s something I’ve always said,” Jones said. “You only get better by practicing and playing and drilling and drilling and drilling. And that’s what (Dargan) has done. But then she also is the kind of player who helps the other students and players develop their skills.”
Said Dargan: “I like to take time to sit and watch other teammates and then I tell them what they can do to get better. I assist them. I help them hit and just show them drills they can do when they go home. Anything to help them get better.”
Dargan, herself, definitely got better over her four years at Morrow, culminating with a statistically stellar senior season where she batted a team-leading .643 with eight RBIs and a homer.
She had Alabama State and Asbury University on her trail along with Benedict College. But when she chose Benedict over the others, she acknowledged an unlikely person assisted in her decision — the nation’s Commander-In-Chief an assist in making her decision.
“I didn’t wanna go too far from home, but I didn’t want to stay too close either,” she said. “I wanted to be close enough to be in the middle of both of my grandparents. I have a cousin that goes there and the campus is nice, but when President Obama went to speak there on March 5, I said, ‘Oh yeah, this is where I’m going.'”
Political starstruckeness aside, Dargan said the highlight of her four-year career at Morrow was playing with teammates Terria Patrick and Jazmine Gatson, whom she said she’s played with since the age of seven.
She’s proven herself to be just as gifted in the classroom. The future business administration major sports a 3.6 grade point average at Morrow — she’ll quickly let you know her goal is to bump it up before the year is over — and she’s learned, not only how to be a better softball athlete, but also a better role model to her peers.
“I definitely found out that in these kinds of positions, people are always looking at you,” she said. “Leadership is key. So I just feel like I’m not just out there performing for myself. I feel like people look at me as a leader, so I need to put my head down and be prepared and always ready to act like that and support others whenever I can.”