From their playing days as high school football players in Bakersfield, Matt Darr and Colton Schmidt go way back.
So when Darr, a Frontier High School graduate, got the call Tuesday that he was replacing Schmidt, who attended Liberty, as punter of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, a wide range of emotions took over.
The NFL is a cut-throat business, and the punter position fits that profile as well. Just ask Darr, who hasn’t had a full-time professional job in nearly two years after being cut by the Miami Dolphins.
“Colton has been an inspiration for me throughout the years. The fact he’s a few years older than I am, even in high school — I was watching him play at Liberty and I always thought he was great,” Darr said. “When he broke into the NFL, I was setting my sights on it. Colton making it in Buffalo, it was a burst of energy to me to think I had a chance.”
The jubilation of getting back in the game was paramount. “I’m just thrilled to be here today,” Darr said from his hotel room in Buffalo, as he prepared to join his new team heading into Week 13 of the season.
Conversely, however, the disappointment for his longtime friend was difficult to deny, simply because Darr has also walked in those shoes.
“I don’t think there’s any hard feelings between us. We both understand it’s the business and the profession we signed up for,” Darr said. “I don’t have any doubt that Colton is going to land on his feet. It’s never good to feel like you just put someone on the street. Especially Colton. But it doesn’t affect our relationship.”
Schmidt, 28, was released Tuesday by the Bills before Darr, 26, joined the team for a tryout along with two other candidates for the job. Darr ended up getting the nod and was later signed.
It’s been a long road back to the NFL for Darr, who punted for Miami from 2015-16. He appeared in all 32 games for the Dolphins during those two years, averaging 46 yards on 182 punts. He was named to the Professional Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team following the 2015 season.
He was cut following the 2016 season, however, and has been out of professional football ever since.
Darr and his wife Lauren — a fellow Frontier graduate – moved to Fort Worth, Texas where he worked out on high school fields with fellow free agent punters and long snappers. In his free time, Darr and the fellow free agents hunted together while his wife attended graduate school at SMU.
Darr said he’s had 13 tryouts over the past year and a half, and performed well in many of them. Still, he didn’t get the call, and was adversely affected this offseason when many teams opted to go with younger players at the position as opposed to signing veterans.
“I went through a dry spell,” Darr said. “It’s awesome. It’s been a long time coming since I was released by Miami.”
Darr said his ties to the AFC East — the Bills and Dolphins share the same division — helped him get recognized by Buffalo. Coincidentally, his first game with the Bills comes this Sunday in Miami.
“It’ll be good to go back and see some old teammates and familiar faces. It will be different to be on the other side,” Darr said. “But at the same time, I’m just glad to be back.”
Schmidt won't be the only NFL player with Bakersfield ties taking the field this Sunday.
There are currently four other Kern County natives on NFL rosters: Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (Bakersfield Christian); Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler (Centennial); San Francisco 49ers defensive back D.J. Reed (Independence); and Carolina Panthers linebacker Jared Norris (Centennial).
Also, Tyrone Crawford — a starting defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys — and New York Jets wide receiver Rishard Matthews are Bakersfield College graduates.