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His father is St. Ambrose University’s all-time leading rusher and the only back-to-back first team all-American in program history.

His mother was a four-year letterwinner in volleyball at Washington State and still has her name etched in the record books for hitting percentage and blocks.

His older sister was instrumental in one of Bettendorf’s two state volleyball titles and went on to compete at the Division I level.

There is no denying Bettendorf junior Darien Porter inherited some tremendous athletic genes from his parents, Lionel and Carrie (Gilley), along with sister Devan.

“I got lucky with my parents,” Porter said. “They are two very athletically gifted people who helped create another good athlete.”

Genetics, combined with a tireless work ethic, a high degree of motivation and a fearless competitive spirit, have turned Porter into a star on the track for the Bulldogs.

Porter heads to the blue oval in Des Moines this week seeking to defend his Class 4A 400-meter state championship, pick up an individual title in the 200 and anchor the Bulldogs to victories in the sprint medley and 1,600 relays.

Four golds certainly are attainable.

The Iowa State football recruit ran a career-best 47.92 seconds in the 400 at districts, nearly a full second faster than the next best time in the state.

He’s seeded among the top five in the 200 meters. The sprint medley relay already has the Iowa all-time best. The 1,600 relay was second at the Drake Relays last month.

“I know there is going to be a target on my back being a returning state champion and people have seen what I’ve been doing in the past year and this spring, but my mindset hasn’t changed at all,” Porter said. “I’m not letting any outside pressures get to me.”

Porter hinted last month that this might be his final high school track season. He is contemplating graduating early next year to get a head start in Iowa State’s football program.

“My mindset is to get business done and focus on everything else afterward,” Porter said.

Road to Bettendorf

Porter was born in San Clemente, California. His father was stationed there as a captain in the United States Marine Corps.

After Lionel was honorably discharged, job opportunities led to frequent moves. The family lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for about four years, followed by five years in Memphis, Tennessee.

Before Porter was to start middle school, his father landed a job with Deere & Co. and the family relocated to the Quad-Cities.

It was familiar territory for his parents. Lionel rushed for 5,437 yards and 53 touchdowns for the Bees from 1993-96. Carrie was an all-stater during Davenport North’s 1988 state championship volleyball season.

For Porter, it was entirely new. He had to adjust going from private to public school. He had to develop friendships.

“I managed to fit in pretty well with everyone else here, but moving here was a concern at first,” he said. “I was pretty nervous about it.”

It was about this time his track career took off.

A year earlier, Porter gave up baseball to run track in Memphis. Once in the Quad-Cities, he joined the Mississippi Valley Track Club and saw his passion for the sport evolve.

“I liked it a lot because I’ve always been pretty good at it,” he said. “I won a lot.”

Porter was the only freshman in the 400 4A state field in 2016. Despite a nagging hamstring injury throughout the season, he managed to place 11th in 50.46 seconds.

It provided plenty of incentive moving forward.

“Being so young, I didn’t realize how great the older competition would be,” Porter said. “It really made me hungry, and I wanted to get out there and compete with other guys. Not being in the fast heat upset me. It lit a fire inside me to keep pushing myself to get that state title.”

Chasing greatness

Porter has spent the past two seasons chasing records. His name is sprinkled all over Bettendorf’s track and field record book.

He set the 400 mark last May in winning the state title in 48.24 seconds. He eclipsed that time last week at districts.

He’s part of the record-setting sprint medley relay (1:31.12) and 1,600 relay (3:19.01), and he’s within a tenth of a second of Bettendorf’s school mark in the 200.

“I’ve been doing this almost 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like it in terms of his consistency,” Bettendorf coach Dave Terronez said. “You might have some kids who run 48s and 49s as freshmen or sophomores, but stay at that point as juniors and seniors.

“He’s continued to get better every single year.”

Porter often has done it without much competition. He has won open 400s by three and four seconds this season.

When he was pushed on the final leg of the 1,600 relay at Drake last month, he turned in an eye-popping 46.6 split.

“There aren’t too many people who get to have an athlete like him on your team and train with him every day,” senior Demari Nicholson said. “He pushes you to work harder and sets a good example for your team to follow.”

Porter is not a vocal leader or one to raise his voice at a teammate. He leads through example.

“It is always, ‘Yes, sir,’” Terronez said. “He’s always one of the first to practice and meetings. He sits in the front row, and one of the last ones to leave.

“When your best athlete is your hardest worker, that's a really good thing."

Porter is meticulous in his preparation. Bettendorf, in fact, has a phrase “Warm up like Darien.”

He’ll spend up to an hour getting ready for a race, usually taking multiple laps around the football field, mixing in dynamic stretching, footwork and speed drills.

“I think it is part of the reason I run so well and look so good out there,” Porter said. “I’m so warmed up and loose before my races. I make sure I go down to the finest detail when I warm up.”

The big number on Porter's mind this week is 47.01 seconds, Iowa's all-time best in the 400 run by Iowa City High's Calvin Davis in 2002. Des Moines Roosevelt's Yawusa Kinda has the state meet record of 47.33 in 2004.

"It definitely is something I'm really going to be shooting for," Porter said. "I need to be running for time.

"As we saw at Drake, running with someone helps you run faster, but I'm learning how to run by myself for time."

Others have gained appreciation.

After winning four events at last Thursday's district, multiple people came up to Porter and expressed their enjoyment watching him compete.

"I've never seen a high school kid run that fast," Nicholson said.

Track future?

Asked if football or track was his favorite sport, Porter hesitated, smiled and finally answered: "It is pretty even I'd say."

Porter has had more success on the track to this point. He had flashes of brilliance on the football field at receiver last fall, but a wrist injury sidelined him for several games. He had 10 grabs for 251 yards and four scores.

Football is his plan in college for now. He committed to coach Matt Campbell's program in December.

"The type of message their program preaches, not just in football but in life, is really commendable and something anybody could get behind," Porter said. "Their whole coaching staff is some of the most likeable people I've ever met. Everything they do has the players interest at heart."

Iowa and Northern Iowa have shown interest in him for track. Nebraska and Minnesota have offered him for football since his commitment to Iowa State. Porter is a three-star recruit ranked among the top five prospects in Iowa in the 2019 class.

Recently, he competed at the Under Armour All-American football camp in Chicago.

The 6-foot-4 and 170-pound Porter hasn't completely closed the door on track beyond high school.

"I always tell people I'm keeping an open mind about it," Porter said. "I can still go to Iowa State, and that option is still open for me to run track and play football.

"I try not to let people on the outside influence anything I'm going to do. I let my heart and mind tell me what I'm going to do."

His coach won't convince him to choose track over football. Neither will his parents, who never pushed athletics on him growing up.

"People are like, 'Aren't you talking him into track? He could go to Baylor, Iowa or someplace else really big and possibly be an Olympian,'" Terronez said. "He's got to do what's in his heart and what makes him happy.

"I'm just glad I've gotten a chance to coach someone like Darien. I may coach for many more years and never have another guy like him."

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Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.