Tulane Spring Football: Darnell Mooney’s collegiate plan is right on track

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Darnell Mooney
(Photo: Parker Waters)

NEW ORLEANS – Darnell Mooney had it all planned out.

Freshman year, he was going to play his role and learn as much as he could. Sophomore year, he was going to increase his numbers and become a reliable contributor. Junior year, he was going to become a playmaker.

Safe to say, everything is going according to plan so far.

The rising senior wide receiver out of Gadsden, Alabama, has seen his role on the team grow every season. He went from 267 receiving yards as a freshman to 599 as a sophomore and then led Tulane last year with 993 yards. His touchdown totals went from two as a freshman to four a sophomore to eight last season. He finished the year sixth in the nation in yards per catch at 20.7 and was among the nation’s top 50 in yards, touchdowns and yards per game.

So what’s on the agenda for his senior year in 2019?

“Senior year you have to be an extreme playmaker,” Mooney said.

Mooney’s junior year began with him as the Green Wave’s No. 2 receiver behind Terren Encalade. At the start of the year, Mooney watched as Encalade got double-teamed and he got the lighter coverage from defensive backs. But midway through the year, the tables turned.

As his numbers ballooned, Mooney started getting double coverage. But that didn’t stop him from racking up 217 yards and two touchdowns against ECU on November 11, nor did it slow him down in a 135-yard game in the regular-season finale against Navy.

And as selfless as he is, Mooney never cared when Encalade was the one making catches.

“Me and Teddy [Encalade] had a great relationship,” Mooney said. “When he scored, it was like I was running into the end zone. Like I was scoring a touchdown.”

Interestingly, 2019 could see a similar situation to begin the season. With the addition of graduate transfer wide receiver Jalen McCleskey from Oklahoma State, Mooney could once again begin the season as Tulane’s No. 2 receiver. Either way is fine with him.

More important is getting better as receiver. One of the greatest moments of his 2018 season came in late September in the form of a 51-yard receiving touchdown against Memphis. That touchdown, a strike from Justin McMillan in his first throw at Yulman Stadium, put Tulane ahead by 10 points in a game where the Tigers entered as heavy favorites.

Mooney was more concerned with his dropped passes.

He had four total dropped passes in the game including three in the first quarter, and – despite it having a huge, game-changing touchdown in a Tulane win – Mooney mentioned that game as his worst of the season. Afterward, he told media members that he had “a date with the jugs machine” in his future.
“Me and the jugs machine had a good talk, and it worked out,” Mooney said, with a big smile on his face, during spring practice Thursday. “It was a learning experience. You learn more from your failures than your successes.”

His relationship with McMillan as his quarterback has improved greatly as well.

“We don’t have to talk as much,” Mooney said. “He just gives me a look, and I already know what’s going on. It’s not vocal communication, it’s more seeing the same thing.”

Mooney also believes 2019 will see the emergence of at least one other Tulane wide receiver. Jaetavian Toles, Jacob Robertson Jr. and Jorien Vallien all got significant playing time last year, and Mooney knows they have been working hard this offseason to get even better. Sorrell Brown and Kevin LeDee missed all last season with injuries, but Mooney has seen them putting in the work in the film room and on the practice field.

With him cutting down on his drops and becoming an extreme playmaker plus the emergence of new receivers to take some of the pressure off, Green Wave fans should expect another increase in Mooney’s numbers during his senior season.

The Green Wave concluded its fifth spring practice on Thursday, wearing pads for the third consecutive day.

Following practice, head coach Willie Fritz recapped the day with reporters and indicated that the team had begun to incorporate more special teams work into practice.

Fritz stressed the importance of field position in the kicking game.

“It’s all important,” Fritz said. “We’re try to put our best players out in the kicking game.”

The fourth-year head coach also discussed the team’s offseason conditioning program led by Kyle Speer.

“He does a great job,” Fritz said. “Kyle was with me at Sam Houston State and Georgia Southern and then I brought him with me to Tulane. He has a great staff, but we as coaches are very involved. Our whole staff loves being in there and I think everyone reinforces what we are looking for in our strength program. Kyle does a great job of leading our program. He runs the program exactly how I want him to run it and does a very good job with our guys.”

Tulane’s spring practice continues Saturday and concludes Saturday, April 13 with the annual spring game at Yulman Stadium.

Tulane opens the 2019 season on Thursday, August 29 at home against FIU with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m.

For season ticket information, please call 504-861-WAVE (9283), log on to TulaneTix.com or visit the ticket office at the James W. Wilson Jr. Center.

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Remaining Spring Football Practice Schedule
Date: Practice # – Time
Tuesday, March 12: Practice #1 Recap
Thursday, March 14: Practice #2 Recap
Saturday, March 16: Practice #3 – Recap
Tuesday, March 19: Practice #4 – Recap
Thursday, March 21: Practice #5 – Recap
Thursday, March 21: Pro Day – Recap
Saturday, March 23: Practice #6 – 8:30-10 a.m.
Tuesday, March 26: Practice #7 – 8:30-10 a.m.
Friday, March 29: Practice #8 – 8:30-10 a.m.
Saturday, March 30: Practice #9 – 8:30-10 a.m.
Monday, April 2: Practice #10 – 8:30-10 a.m.
Thursday, April 4: Practice #11 – 8:30-10 a.m.
Saturday, April 6: Practice #12 – 8:30-10 a.m.
Tuesday, April 9: Practice #13 – 8:30-10 a.m.
Thursday, April 11: Practice #14 – 8:30-10 a.m.
Saturday, April 13: Spring Game – 8:30-10 a.m.

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