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He is breaking through holes and stereotypes with a fleetness belying his body structure. In a 12-month span, 5-foot-7, 200-pound Wharton senior Darius Page has evolved from inconspicuous to indomitable.
This time in 2010, Page had amassed 2 yards on one carry, not to mention a lot of disillusionment. This season, he has 1,009 in eight games. When he runs for at least 100, the Wildcats are 4-0.
"I always wanted to play running back; I always thought I was pretty good at it," Page recalled before a recent practice. "And then once I got my opportunity in seven-on-seven and everything, once (Coach David Mitchell) gave me my shot, it was history. I just took it and ran."
And so was fulfilled the projections of Page's father, who continually told the youngest of his three boys to be patient, that his senior year would be his shining one. At 17, Darius Jamal Page is enjoying a rebirth of sorts.
It's not his first new lease on life.
The initial one came after Katrina flooded his hometown and rendered his house an edifice of mold. It proceeded the evacuation to Texas, the unlikely reunion with a dad who stayed behind in New Orleans, and the faith-induced relocation to Tampa.
"The experience was not something that I would like to remember," he said.
Darius was a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Ray Abrams Elementary School in New Orleans when Katrina's swath annihilated the Gulf Coast. His family survived; its three-bedroom red-brick home on the city's east side, for all practical intents, did not.
"Maybe about 6 or 7 feet of water," recalled Darius' brother Damon, then a student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. "It was molded pretty good. The structure was still intact, but it was just molded really bad."
For the first week, Darius, his 82-year-old grandmother and his mom, Janie, relocated to New Orleans' Methodist Hospital, where Janie worked as a nurse. His dad, Donald, an engineer at the city's convention center, remained at his job assisting with the massive relief efforts.
Darius recalls only one side of the hospital having power, and he was on the opposite one, residing mainly in a hallway.
"My mom would give me a sandwich, but she wouldn't be able to eat if I ate the whole sandwich," he said.
"I ate half of the sandwich and let her eat the rest of it for the whole week. We might have had one good meal and that was the last day, and we stayed in the hospital for a week. I lost about 15 pounds."
Still unable to reach Donald at the convention center, Darius, his mom and grandmother were transported by helicopter to an emergency shelter built on an Air Force base outside San Antonio, Texas.
Soon thereafter, Donald and a friend hopped in his blue 2002 Jeep Liberty and spent two days navigating their way to Houston, where the friend's family had relocated. On the way, he stopped by Damon's dormitory to check in. Damon asked where his mother was.
"And he said, 'I don't know, but I'm going to get her,'" Damon recalled.
Amid phone reception ranging from spotty to impotent, Donald learned of his family's whereabouts. When he arrived at the base, it was too late to register for entry, forcing him to sleep in his car overnight. The next morning, he spotted Janie walking around outside.
"I can't describe the feeling," Donald said of the chance encounter in a 2005 Times story.
With the help of a minister friend from Tampa, the family moved to the area, residing in a Holiday Inn Express as Darius' parents found work and re-gained financial footing. Darius immediately hooked up with a Pop Warner team, easing the transition to his new environment.
"You could say (the ordeal) made me a better person because when I was living in New Orleans I didn't really care too much about anything besides just having fun and being a kid, not about stuff that was important like school and stuff like that," Darius said.
"I played football and that's all I cared about."
Such maturity has been accompanied by resolve. Overshadowed by 2010 feature tailbacks David Larry and Jon Mahan, Page seized the opportunity that arose when they graduated.
He had an explosive spring game, and took no vacation time from the weightroom over the summer, a claim that Mitchell corroborates. When seven-on-seven action commenced, Page brandished the pass-catching dimension of his game. His 22 receptions currently lead the team.
"He was busting his butt in the weightroom," Mitchell said.
"He grew up, that's it," added Damon, a 'Cats volunteer coach.
"He's young (Page turned 17 last month), so he's really matured, it seems like, overnight. He started taking his own initiative. I don't have to wake him up to go and run, I don't have to wake him up and say study. He's just doing it on his own."
Essentially, he's equipping himself to seek yet another new home. A college one.
"Whoever gets him is going to get a good guy," Mitchell said.