Moments after St. Martinville’s 13-6 victory Oct. 8 over Breaux Bridge, senior inside linebacker David Charles headed for the end zone, dropped to a knee and openly sobbed.
Not only was Charles caught in the emotion of St. Martinville’s first win over their archrival in recent years but the Tigers were in the midst of a turnaround, complete with a share of the District 5-4A lead just like his father predicted two months before.
“I started thinking about him,” David Charles said. “That we finally did it.”
Darrel Charles, who worked offshore for 30 years, had struggled with health-related issues in the months before being hospitalized in late July, placed on dialysis because of kidney failure.
Doctors explained to Charles and his family dialysis would only work for so long, but the prognosis for Darrel was bleak. They were presented with the unenviable task of deciding whether to keep Darrel connected to a ventilator.
It was the first day of school when David Charles was summoned from the football practice field by a relative, who quickly took him to Lafayette General Hospital to be alongside his ailing father, joining his mother, sister and brother.
A week after opting to have him removed from the ventilator, Darrel Charles died at the age of 54. In what turned out to be the final conversation between father and son, Darrel, a former standout defensive end for St. Martinville who went on to Oklahoma University for two years, talked to David about the upcoming football prospects for St. Martinville.
The Tigers, who were one of the state’s most successful programs during Darrel’s career, had fallen on hard times with only one nonlosing season in the past five years, including a 1-9 record in 2014.
“He said St. Martinville should never be down,” David recalled. “He thought we were going to have a good team. I told him we were going to bring it back up and be the way it used to be. I promised him that.”
Not only has St. Martinville (5-3) combined to win more games this season than in the previous two seasons, but the Tigers are tied for the District 5-4A lead with Cecilia, who they host next week.
Moreover, Charles has played a significant role in that resurgence, leading St. Martinville with 59 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles, a sack and interception.
“He’s a tough, hard-nosed kid from a football family and has good genes,” St. Martinville first-year coach Vincent Derouen said. “He’s fast and strong and has all the intangibles.”
To those family members, or friends of his father, David is a spitting image of Darrel, but at 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds isn’t quite built like his block of granite dad, who was 6-2 and 230 pounds.
Some of the stories handed down have David playing with the same level of aggressiveness and physical nature that transformed his dad into a major college prospect.
Darrel was also a capable tight end but when it came to offense David sought a transition to defense after tearing the meniscus in his right knee playing offensive guard and tackle as a sophomore.
Charles was granted his wish, initially moving to his father’s old position — defensive end – before settling at linebacker, a spot that took advantage of the kind of speed that enabled him to be a member of the school’s sprint relay teams in track.
Charles has flourished in St. Martinville’s linebacker-friendly 4-2-5 scheme that allows linebackers to read and make plays.
During the past two weeks, Charles has enjoyed his best games of his career with 14 and 11 tackles, while never losing sight of his inspiration.
“He was there at everything I did, supporting me,” Charles said of his dad. “It’s bittersweet because I know he wanted us to have a good season. When I make a big tackle, I celebrate and think about him.”