Elisha Darrell’s jump to football is a road well travelled
Rohaan Simons, the Bermuda National Athletics Association’s jumps coach, can relate to Elisha Darrell’s decision to switch from athletics to football. He made the same move himself years ago at the height of his jumping career.
Simons, who played football and cricket for Southampton Rangers and football for Somerset Trojans, was also an accomplished high jumper in his teens and twenties before the attraction of the national sports stole him away.
He wasn’t the first jumper to make the switch. Clarance “Nicky” Saunders, a Commonwealth Games gold medal-winner in 1990, enjoyed a stint as a centre back with Devonshire Colts in the 1980s, while Justin Donawa, a triple jumper, won a gold medal at the 2012 Carifta Games on home soil. He was also a promising pace bowler, but cricket lost out, too, when he pursued a professional football career in England.
Darrell, 20, is now showing some promise as a striker for Devonshire Cougars, scoring the winner against Dandy Town in the Dudley Eve Trophy final last week and then backing that up with a first-half hat-trick against Southampton Rangers on Sunday.
“We actually just talked before the final and he was just basically letting me know of his progression,” Simons said. “I told him this is just one of those things that happens; in my career, I remember Gerry Swan and Cal Simons didn’t want me to play football.
“They thought that I was a lot more talented in track and field, but as a young man you make decisions. In Elisha’s journey, I think he felt that he maxed out on where he thought he could be.
“Not everybody has the same path. It’s not like we fell out or are on bad books because we are very tight. He came to me and was telling me about the football and how much he enjoyed it. I said to him, ‘these are the things I used to tell you about’.”
Simons went on to represent Bermuda during the 2004 World Cup qualifying campaign, playing in the same team as Shaun Goater, Kyle Lightbourne, Kentoine Jennings, Shannon Burgess, Khano Smith, Stephen Astwood and Ralph Bean Jr.
“He knew about some of the football, but not to the extent of how much I had done,” Simons said. “He’s still learning stuff; his coach told him about one of the goals that I had scored and he was just blown away.
“He’s learning about what I had done and linking it to what he is doing. I was telling him that even when he does train in track and field, it enhances what he already has. His natural ability to play football comes out, but his technical ability surpasses it because he has an aerial ability.”
Simons, who coaches developing jumpers, admits it is difficult for him to advise Darrell to chose athletics over football. “Trust me, we had this conversation and I’ve been very honest with these guys about my journey,” he said.
“I have tried to make them understand that even though I might think you can have a future in this, you have to follow your own heart. I would be a hypocrite if I tried to be like other people and said ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’.”
Simons added: “Cal Simons always wanted me to do track and field, but the glamour sport was football. The hard thing about track and field is that it is never going to have the money support, never going to have the fan support that a football game or a cricket game would.
“When you weigh it up, you are training hard, multiple days a week and committing a lot of hours and a lot of time. But as an island we don’t have enough in track and field to hold our athletes and convince them they are good enough to get scholarships and improve themselves academically.
“We have had more top juniors in track and field than in football. In a team sport you could be in a good team and not necessarily be that good, but you can’t hide in track and field.
“I’m not surprised Elisha is excelling in football. He already has the tools and now he’s getting good training down there at Cougars. I commend the coaching staff. I know them very well.”
Because of his commitment to his own business, Simons doesn’t have much time on weekends to watch football. “I’ve seen him once lately,” he said. “I want to get some more time to watch him because, obviously, if I see something I could mention it to him.
“It would be extremely selfish for me to say, ‘I wish he stayed over here’. As a Bermudian, I think we need the best in all our sports, not just track and field.
“I’ve played cricket, football and track and field at a high level, so I can’t say we’re losing him in track and field. I feel another sport is gaining another young Bermudian.
“If he gets called up to the national programme, then you’re getting an ambassador. All I would know is that some of that came through track and field. They all know where he came from.
“I said to him, ‘If you’re not going to be jumping, I definitely want you doing something. He came up to the track the other night and everybody was excited to see him ... as usual.
“He might decide ‘I want to jump some more’. Who’s to say he can’t do both? I did it!”