The beach city boys used to throw on USC jerseys and run plays in the driveway, all thinking they’d one day make like Matt Leinart or Reggie Bush.
Kids’ dreams, the usual.
“I never knew it was going to get like this,” he says.
Sam Darnold arrived suddenly at fame, and he is puzzling over how to embrace it without losing his identity. So shortly before his 20th birthday, he steers his 2001 Highlander to a house not far from the beach, where on a backyard dirt court four barefoot guys are playing something that vaguely resembles a basketball game.
As he navigates new pressure, outsize attention and vanishing free time, Darnold often retreats to the beach lifestyle where he feels safe, with people he trusts, to remind him of who he is.
Plus, in this case, Darnold, who speaks like he’s paying by the word, seems to be hoping his friends can explain all he’s facing better than he can.
He sits down on the sideline next to a young man named Dean, who tries to explain how his friend handles stress.
Back at San Clemente High, their football team was down 14 points in a playoff game. Everyone was rattled as Dean, a receiver, sidled up to his angry quarterback on the sideline.
“Dude, you good?”
Darnold stared straight ahead and grumbled. He fell silent for a tick. Then he did something that startled his buddy.
“He looks at me and starts smiling,” Dean says.
“And then he goes out on the field and we started winning.”
Dean shrugs and shakes his head. It’s his best shot at explaining the unexplainable.
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