What does Charleroi High 1992 graduate Darrell Harding have in common with LeBron James? Aside from being a standout (multi-sport) athlete, Harding, like James, was a target of autograph seekers while still in high school.
Also, Harding’s high school feats were simply staggering. In 1988, he rushed for 1,074 yards, which means he is believed to be the first WPIAL freshman to top the 1,000-yard plateau. His next two years produced 1,273 then 917 yards. He then exploded for 28 touchdowns and 2,146 yards, giving him 5,410 career yards on the ground, absolutely shattering the old single season and career records for WPIAL play, and giving him a stunning career average of 7.1 per carry. In fact, no other runner had ever topped the 5,000-yard plateau in WPIAL history.
Although his rushing record stood for only one year until Aliquippa’s Chico Williams topped him by 10 yards, Harding said his Cougars often enjoyed such big leads he would sit out the second half of contests, giving others a chance to shine, but imagine his totals if he played full time.
Harding was All-Everything in high school, including All-WPIAL and All-State and he was the Post Gazette’s AA Player of the Year. The Cougars put up winning season yearly with Harding who said they made it to the playoffs in his final three seasons. It took future NFL quarterback Charlie Batch of Steel Valley to knock them out in the quarterfinals in 1991.
Harding said he’s most proud of using his God-given talents and always striving to improve. “It wasn’t a big plan of mine to be Western Pennsylvania’s all-time leading rusher. It was just trying to be the best player that I could be. The love of competition drove me, and when the goals were in sight, then they became important.”
Harding praised big high school influences, Coach Bob Hodgson and Bill Wiltz. “They stayed on top of me when it came to getting better, and what was important about sports and life and how they go hand in hand.”
Harding was also a starter in basketball as a sophomore and had Division II scholarship offers, but focused on football with a possibles shot at the NFL. His basketball coaches were Mickey Hornack and Bruno Pappasergi.
After high school he was so heavily recruited he said, “I could have gone to just about any school in the country. I initially gave a verbal (commitment) to Pitt, and there was a press conference where I announced that I was going there.” That announcement prompted one observer to say, “Man, ticket sales just went up.” However, said Harding, “When I found out Paul Hackett was no longer going to be there, and I wasn’t sure what Pitt had planned for me, I looked at other schools.”
By then, however, schools such as Ohio State and Penn State had acquired the runners they needed. That’s how he ended getting a full scholarship to attend the University of Cincinnati, which worked out well for Harding. For one thing, he met his wife, Heather, there. He also enjoyed several games in which he rushed for 90-plus yards as a tailback, and as a freshman he averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
Unfortunately, he again was a victim of a coaching change after his sophomore season. The Bearcats hired a new coach, Rick Minter, who installed a single-back offense. He asked Harding, who possessed 4.4 speed and who had been a free safety at CHS where he averaged around one interception per game, to move to cornerback to fill a void.
He wound up playing in 43 of his team’s 44 football games. He also led the Bearcats in interceptions as a junior and he was named the team captain in his senior season.
Darrell’s cousin, Ken Griffey Jr., was one of his big supporters. “He came to see me as often as he could in high school and college. We’re very close.” Once, Junior played a game in Cleveland, chartered a plane to Cincinnati to see Harding play, then made it back to face the Indians the very next day.
Harding did get the opportunity to go to a free agent camp with the Steelers, and he believes if he had a legitimate chance to play for them if he had remained a running back in college.
Darrell appreciates those who have taught him so much and who have shown him “what it means to be a responsible man.” That includes his mother, Eleanor Littleton, his grandfather, Curtis Littleton, and his close cousin, James Crump.
Darrell and Heather have two children, Ciera, who attends Point Park University, and 16-year-old Darrell Jr. who goes 6-4, 190 pounds and is a fine wide receiver.
Harding works for Medtronic, working with diabetic patients, and says he’s “loving life, living down here in Winter Garden, Florida. I’m living life like you should.” He can’t ask for more.