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Darius Victor is a running back for the XFL’s New York Guardians. He's listed at 5-foot-6 and 226 pounds.
Darius isn’t the tallest guy out there, but he’s got speed and strength — so much so that, when he was in college, his coach had to pull him out of certain practice drills because he would hit too hard. He was unintentionally hurting his teammates.
But there’s a reason Darius plays the game of football with so much toughness and intensity.
'I Went Through That?'
Darius Victor was born in a refugee camp in Ivory Coast during the Liberian Civil War.
"I don't know if you guys ever seen, like, 'Blood Diamond' or some type of movie like that," Darius says. "That was the type of environment that I was born in."
When he was 5, Darius and his family moved to Hyattsville, Maryland. He doesn’t remember much about his childhood in Ivory Coast but, as he got older, he watched documentaries and talked to his parents to learn more about where he grew up.
"[I] remember stories of my parents saying they used to have to hide in bushes, sleep in bushes — things like that to find refuge from the soldiers," Darius says. "So just hearing them say things like that, you know — ducking from bullets, just running for their lives, things like that — it’s just, like, eye-opening. Because I see them now, and I'm like, 'Wow, you guys really went through that? I went through that?' You know, I don't remember it. But just having that background is crazy."
"Hearing them say things like that, you know — ducking from bullets, just running for their lives, things like that — it’s just, like, eye opening."Darius Victor
Moving to the U.S. didn’t mean that things were going to be easy. Darius’s parents had to work all the time to provide for their seven children.
And that’s how football came into play.
"I started playing football because of my older brother Kevin," Darius says. "And Kevin was four years older than me. He was pretty much my designated babysitter, whether he wanted it or not. But he used to go to football practice, and he was pretty good — like, I'm talking about one of the best.
"And me and him was so competitive. If he liked blue, I was gonna say I like red. It was just like opposites. So I always wanted to be better than him, beat him in everything that we did. So, one day, one of his coaches asked me, 'Hey, Little Vic' — they used to call him 'Big Vic,' and I was 'Little Vic' — 'Hey, Little Vic, you want to play football?' And I was like, 'Yeah.' "
Kevin became Darius’s mentor.
"I call it 'tough love.' Like, when I ran a long run or something like that, and a flag was called, I used to be one of those kids that wanted to cry and didn’t want to play no more. Kevin would be the first one, like, 'What are you crying for? Like, toughen up.' You know what I'm saying?
"It was just like his toughness really made me who I am today. Even when I run the football, I think about him saying, 'Why [did] you let him tackle you?' or 'Why didn’t you score?' He would always ask me questions like that to push me to be better."
As a sophomore at Northwestern High School, Darius became an all-county player. He was even better the next season and was named to the all-metro team.
Then, it happened.
'Kevin Got Shot'
"It was 2011. I was at my friend Javante's house," Darius recalls. "I first got a call from [Kevin's] girlfriend. She called me, like, crying. Like, 'Kevin got shot. Kevin got shot.' I'm like, 'What?'
"So I hung up the phone, and it didn't hit me. I'm like, 'Wow, is it really happening?' But then my dad called me, like, two minutes after, and he was saying it, and he's, like, crying. And I was like — and that’s when I lost it. I was like, 'Oh, my God.' Like, you know?"
According to news reports from that time, Kevin was leaving a local rec center, when two robbers confronted him and his friends. Kevin was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. No suspects were ever publicly identified.
Darius’s family had escaped the violence in war-torn Liberia — only to find it in the U.S.
"It was very tough," Darius says. "And what the crazy part is — he was literally like about 100 yards away from the front door to our house."
Honoring Kevin With Toughness
As time passed, Darius decided he’d honor his brother the best way he could.
"Knowing how he wanted me to carry myself, how he wanted me to just be the best I could be, you know, and just to make him proud — now that he’s gone, I definitely have to step up to the plate," Darius says.
In his senior year, Darius became an all-state running back for his high school. At Towson University, he was all-conference. Darius wasn’t selected in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he got an offer to join the New Orleans Saints’ rookie minicamp.
But the Saints cut Darius before the season began. He joined the Arizona Cardinals. And they cut him too. An opportunity in the Canadian Football League didn’t work out either.
Still, Darius just kept pushing himself.
"Having a 9-to-5, and then working out after — not even just a regular workout, but training like a professional athlete, you know — and then just waking up and doing it all over again," Darius recalls. "So it was very stressful."
Then, the XFL happened.
Darius received an invitation to the showcase in St. Louis, where players got a chance to show off their skills. He says he felt good about how it went. Soon, his name was added to the list of players available in the XFL Draft.
And in the ninth round, the New York Guardians selected Darius.
"I never got drafted before," Darius says. "You know, every kid's dream is to get drafted. So having that moment is amazing."
Through the first two games of the season, Darius Victor rushed for 48 yards in 12 attempts.
"I'm blessed with the opportunity, so I have to go hard," Darius says. "And you never know when your last play is gonna be. So that's how I take it every day, every play. And I know Kevin would be proud of me in the way I play."
This segment aired on February 22, 2020.
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