Darren and Darnell Stephens had to think long and hard about what the longest period of time was the two fraternal twins had been apart from one another before.
The best answer the duo could come up with was less than a week.
Born in North Carolina and raised in Conyers, Georgia, Darren and Darnell have always been beside one another. While they didn’t look anything alike growing up, it didn’t take long for them to realize that they were twins.
“It was when mom started making us wear the same outfits,” Darren said. “Your mom wants everyone to know that her sons are twins. We used to go home together and do homework together. We had the same class, the same home room. All of that.”
Growing up, the duo always found time to do their own things despite remaining attached at the hip. Darren started playing basketball as a young kid while Darnell eventually dabbled in wrestling as a sixth grader.
One sport remained constant between the two, however — the game of football.
“We knew we wanted to play football ever since we were young,” Darren said. “We started at RYFA.”
Beginning their football careers playing in the Rockdale Youth Football Association, the duo began taking the sport seriously in the ninth grade.
“We think all the time about how if we could go back, we’d take it more serious back in middle school,” Darren said. “Our freshman year, that’s when the competitions in the backyard started. That’s when we started competing against one another.”
With Darren playing wide receiver and Darnell playing defensive back, it wasn’t hard to set up 1-on-1 battles in the backyard. Their older brother Nicolas would be right in between the two helping lead the charge.
“Nicolas was the quarterback, I was the cornerback and Darren was the receiver,” Darnell said. “We would go at it. We would tell each other tips when we were going against different opponents.”
When the duo began to make a name for themselves at Rockdale, so did their battles against one another in practice.
“We knew that the only way we were going to get better was to compete,” Darren said. “Even at practice in high school, we’d be the first ones up when we did one-on-one’s.”
Both still remember back to a day in practice where each had their moment to shine in front of the coaching staff and team.
“We were starting at the 50 in the middle of the field and Darren ran a corner route and caught it with one hand,” Darnell said. “The next play, we went to the red zone and he did a comeback route and I picked it off. We kept going back and forth. He scored and then I got a big deflection. Our teammates were boosting us up because we are brothers. They didn’t know brothers compete that hard.”
When it was time to work on blocking, both Darnell and Darren wouldn’t hesitate to mix it up with one another, too.
“Coach Nic (Everett Nicholas) would always pipe it up,” Darrren said. “When we would do blocking drills, he would want Darnell and I to go up against each other. We would block and do all of that. I liked how coach Nic always made us compete. Those are some good memories.”
Entering their junior year at Rockdale in 2018, Darnell made the switch to wide receiver, a position he had never played before. While Darren was continuing to make a name for himself as one of Rockdale’s top receivers, it was Darnell who made one of the biggest plays of the season.
Darnell hauled in the game-winning touchdown against rival Newton in double overtime in the final game of the season and Darren was one of the first players to greet him in the end zone.
“That was my best moment in high school,” Darnell said. “If there’s one high school moment I’m going to have, it’s that. First-year receivers don’t make those types of plays. When I saw it on film, I was so surprised that I actually did that.”
Darren went on to lead the Bulldogs in receiving as a senior with 607 yards. Darnell continued to play receiver alongside Darren while also splitting time at cornerback. Both were named to the Citizen’s Super Six roster and both enjoyed every minute of the journey.
“It didn’t hit me until the Newton game,” Darren said. “I was like, man, this is the last game. I was thinking about the season during pregame. I was looking at Darnell, Noah (McGlockling) and all of my teammates. It was hard, but we went out with a bang.”
The duo also came to the tough realization that the season might mark the last time they share the field together as teammates. While both players are receiving their fare share of college recruiting interest, playing for the same collegiate team is far from a done deal.
“That is pretty hard to figure out,” Darnell said. “There are different colleges that notified me and Darren that they’re interested. But some colleges do have the same interest. Not every college runs the same offense. For defense, it doesn’t matter to me because I’ll play corner. But for Darren, it matters. We’re still thinking about it. It’s not a requirement that we go to the same school.”
With both having the opportunity to think things through, attending different colleges next fall won’t be a dealbreaker. While both expect it to be a potentially weird adjustment, both would be comfortable with that decision if it is made.
“It will be tough because we’ve been with each other since we were born,” Darnell said. “That would be weird waking up and not seeing Darrren. We’re ready if it happens.”
As of now, both Darren and Darnell hope to announce their decisions on national signing day next Wednesday and sign on the dotted line to their respective schools.
Looking back on their time at Rockdale, both said they are going to miss their time spent as Bulldogs.
“I’m going to miss the team,” Darren said. “We grew up together. Everybody knew each other, so the chemistry we all had was strong. That’s really the thing that I’m going to miss. I’m going to miss coach Nic and coach (Jamie) Baldwin and the days in the summer with them. There are a lot of things we’re going to miss.”