By Alyssa Hurlbut
With 20 seconds remaining of the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, nearly every eye in England was glued to the television. Shops were closed and workdays halted. Pubs were packed to the brim, decorated with British flags and painted faces that overflowed onto the streets of London.
“I was sitting on my dad’s shoulders at a pub. They weren’t even checking ID’s, they were just letting everybody in,” Max Darrington, 6 years old at the time, reflects.
At Telstra Stadium in Sydney, Australia, the ball (Quora) left the scrum and landed in the hands of English rugby player Jonny Wilkinson. Wilkinson dropped the Quora between his two boots, drove his right foot up, and sent the ball flying between the two goal posts.
Darrington (4th from left) and former rugby teammates
“Dropped Goal England! Oh my. Sean. What a call. It’s all over. That was the penultimate kick of the game. And England have Won. The. World. Cup.” The Guardian headlines read.
Darrington, a rising junior at Marist, recounts that moment as “the best English sporting triumph of my life to this day.”
“That was one of my first sporting memories,” he says. “It became a very big deal in England.”
But as the members of the 2003 English Rugby World Cup team made history, Darrington himself was taking his first steps into what would become an impressive career of top-level athletics.
Growing up in Ipswich, England as the son of a former professional rugby player, Darrington’s life was largely shaped by sports. At the age of 12, his talents won him an all-around athletic scholarship to Millfield Preparatory School–a nationally acclaimed school known for its athletics in England.
At the start of his days at Millfield, Darrington impressed as a multi-sport athlete. Juggling competitive field hockey, cricket, rugby, and tennis, his days were colored with practice after practice.
“I was probably best at cricket compared to everything.” Identified as one of the most talented rising cricketers in England, he was invited to take part in England’s Bloomfield Festival—a competition from which national team scouts recruit.
While he was gaining national recognition in cricket, he made his mark in rugby as well. Like many English athletes his age, he had developed an early love for the sport, one that far exceeded cricket, field hockey, and tennis.
“It was a team sport and I played it with all of my mates, which was the primary reason I played it,” he recalls. “I was just lucky that I went to a school that was one of the best in the nation for the sport.”
Darrington enjoyed a wealth of success in the early stages of his rugby career. Just as in cricket, he gained recognition on a national scale, and in 2013, he collected a national championship with his team at Millfield. By the age of 15, he was playing with some of the best players in England, many of whom went on to play the sport at the international level and collect world cup titles for England.
As any athlete knows, with great success comes great sacrifice. Darrington’s career was plagued with injury upon injury, among which included three shoulder dislocations, three broken collarbones, eight concussions, and a number of broken fingers.
“The game of rugby is incredibly physical,” Darrington says. “Playing at such a high level was daunting, seeing as there were always scouts coming to the games. And I was always scared coming back from those injuries.”
The majority of the injuries were a result of rugby, but they quickly affected his cricket and tennis performance. By the age of 16, Darrington’s multiple concussions forced him to abandon cricket.
Not too long after, the rugby injuries conquered that sport as well. Late in his career at Millfield, and on the brink of playing the sport on a national level, Darrington was forced to hang up his rugby uniform.
“It was very sad,” he says. “It was hard on my dad, too, being a former English rugby player. Seeing me drop the sport was rough.”
But with tennis still very much alive, Darrington was prepared to shift his focus.
“I liked winning…It was more the fact that I had sort of gone bust on rugby, so tennis looked like it was going to be the way forward.”
And when he captained his Milford school to win the national school’s tennis championships, his future in tennis was reaffirmed.
In 2015, after his recruitment videos generated interest from American schools such as Cornell, Yale, and Georgia State, Darrington committed to play Division I tennis at Marist.
Reflecting on his days at Millfield, Darrington looks back with great appreciation and admiration for the role that athletics played in his life.
“I’d say sports completely shaped my characteristics…I’m quite self-discipline which I picked up from Rugby, quite an easy to get along with guy because I played a lot of team sports, and that shaped who I am today.”
While academics may have been lost in the mix of practices during his prep school days, he has more than recovered in college. An honors student with a double major in business and finance, Darrington has made Dean’s list for each of his semesters at college. He continues to manage top-level athletics while maintaining All-Academic standing in the MAAC conference.
“For people growing up in the world of sports,” he says, “I would tell them to do everything whilst your young, but when the right time comes, focus on what you enjoy most.”