NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Ty Darlington has been well aware of the issues facing college football - concussions, pay-for-play, transfer rules to name a few- but felt powerless to do anything about it.
Not the case anymore. The 6-foot-3, 286-pound center for Oklahoma overcame nerves, spoke to the Big 12 Student-Athlete Advisory Committee as a favor to the school's director of student athlete development and now he's known as ''The Senator.''
Reluctant to speak in front of a crowd, he was encouraged by director Dr. Carol Ludvigson to speak at an SAAC conference in Dallas ''that I had no desire to go to,'' he said.
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''None. I just wanted to come to practice, go to workouts. If I happened to have any free time, just relax for a second.''
During the two-day trip, something clicked.
''These issues that I always complained about, or we talked about - it wasn't like we weren't talking about this stuff behind closed doors, we never really felt like we had the power to do anything about it,'' he said. ''So when I got down there, I realized there might be a real opportunity here to get involved and not just talk about it.''
And talk he has. He's become an advocate for college athletes' rights, and was given ''the Senator'' nickname by teammate Sterling Shepard.
You'd never know it now, but the 6-foot-3, 286-pound center was reluctant to become a public speaker at first. He initially only considered it as a favor to Dr. Carol Ludvigson, Oklahoma's director of student athlete development.
''She asked me to go to a SAAC conference in Dallas that I had no desire to go to,'' he said.
Darlington embraced the possibilities from there and became an expert on the pressing issues for athletes. He made a positive and powerful impression on college leaders when he spoke as a student member of the NCAA's autonomy legislation committee in January. He passionately spoke about protection against concussions, in part, because his brother missed the entire 2013 high school season after having one.
Now that the senior captain has made his voice heard on issues such as head injuries, player compensation and transfer rules, people are clamoring to hear more of what he has to say. At a recent offensive availability, Darlington talked more than second-team All-America quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Darlington wants to eventually use the skills he's gained as a coach or an athletic administrator.
''Ty is an AD-in-training,'' Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said. ''He may have much bigger sights than that. He's exceptional. I start to run out of adjectives. He's just an extraordinary leader. A lot of times it's his influence by leading by example rather than actually doing something, but he does a lot. I can't say enough about him.''
Darlington, who is taking graduate courses in adult and higher education, was president of Oklahoma's Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter in 2013-14 and 2014-15, and was a critical part of the football team's leadership council when a racial incident on campus that threatened to divide the squad.
He has plenty to show for it all - he has won the Campbell Trophy as college football's top scholar-athlete and the Wuerffel Trophy for community service. As his fourth-ranked Sooners prepare to play No. 1 Clemson in a national semifinal, he hopes younger athletes are ready to continue what he has done off the field.
''For me, it's a legacy deal because I want to see more people step up,'' Darlington, the current president of the Big 12 Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) said. ''I don't want to leave a hole in different areas. It's more in the other areas - the FCA, the SAAC, the NCAA representation. I want to see people step up to work to make the student athlete experience better.''
Darlington hopes to inspire and help develop a new wave of college athlete leaders.
''I think college athletes are influencers that don't realize the impact that they can have when they maximize their potential and use their platform the way that they can, and I would like to help them,'' he said.
On the field, his leadership has helped a young offensive line blossom into a strong unit. His play was solid, too - he was a second-team All-Big 12 pick this season.
''He's been an incredible leader,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. ''An example of what you want in a student-athlete, the absolute example. He's led with the way he works and what he says, the way he communicates, listens to others. Ty's been exceptional.''
Oklahoma created its seven member leadership council after last year's loss to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The team came up with a system, typed it out and met with Stoops, who agreed to it.
So, who typed the ideas up?
''Of course, Ty,'' Shepard said. ''The Senator, Ty did it. We all had a little input in it. That was the start of it.''
It helped to have that in place when video of a racist chant by members of the school's Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter rocked the campus - and the team. The leaders met and conveyed messages to the rest of the team. After hours and days of intense meetings, an agreement on how to get involved was made. Among other things, the team had silent protests during spring practice.
''We saw a team come together in a way like I have not been a part of in the past,'' Darlington said. ''That's what gives me the most pride, is seeing the adversity the team's fought through and seeing the way we've come together.''
Darlington said he liked the fact that football players at the University of Missouri took a stand against racism together, but the impact - the eventual ouster of the school's chancellor and president - made him think. He said athletes need to be careful to use their power carefully.
''It's scary because of the responsibility it places on 18-to-22-year olds,'' he said.
Darlington said there's more to be done. Going forward, he'd like to see fewer restrictions on the way the athletes can use their name, image and likeness, and he'd like to see progress in the conversation regarding compensation for athletes.
Mayfield lost a year of eligibility when he transferred from Texas Tech. Darlington believes that is wrong, especially because Mayfield was a walk-on.
He hopes the student voice helps lead to change.
''That kind of stuff is important to me, and hopefully, within the next couple years, I'll be able to look and see that stuff happening without me.''
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter (at)CliffBruntAP