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Pass protection, surge protection all in a day's work for Darras

Norwich — It is a little after 7 in the morning and Jake Darras walks into The Shack in Waterford. The entire transaction could be done in a nod. The regular, Jake? (Nod.) And then out comes the repast: chocolate milk, four chocolate chip pancakes the size of rear tires draped in whipped cream and side of breakfast sausage.

The daily disbursement for a working man? Kinda/sorta. Darras is still a senior at Norwich Tech who actually gets to work for a living during school-sponsored, two-week periods of work-based learning as an electrician at Hunter Electric in Niantic.

And then there's this: Darras is also a starting lineman and a captain of the Thames River Crusaders, the football tri-operative among St. Bernard, Norwich Tech and Grasso Tech, which plays perhaps the biggest game in the program's young history Friday night at Cheney Tech in Manchester.

The Crusaders (6-0) are tied atop the Connecticut Technical Conference with Quinebaug Valley and one game ahead of Cheney. A victory in the season's toughest game to date would significantly clear a path toward a  playoff spot and potential conference title. Jake Darras could inhale pancakes before work Friday and then pancake an opposing lineman at night.

Think about that. While other high school football players across Connecticut prepare for such big games in film rooms and weight rooms ... well, let Darras' mother, Sarah, paint the picture.

"It's quite an image when he's been working at Hunter all day, goes to football, and drives home sweaty from practice," she said, "with half his Hunter uniform, half athletic clothes and his huge work boots."

And this is the life of technical school football players, who play the same sport as their more liberal artsy counterparts, but whose days couldn't possibly be spent more in contrast.

"After breakfast, I go to Hunter from 9-2:30, go to football practice till 6:30 and then home to do homework," Darras said. "I'm tired at the end of the work day. But I play football because I love it. I see football as a stress relief. After a long work day, I can be with my friends."

A technical school's academic curriculum, set by the state, is the same as every other public high school's. Trade school students cycle through academic and shop (trade) rotations throughout the year, the best and brightest of which qualify for "WBL," or Work Based Learning. Those who meet the criteria interview for real jobs and earn official apprenticeships through the state Dept. of Labor, accruing hours toward being able to test in their chosen field.

And so while more typical high school football players spend their mornings and early afternoons in class, there is Darras installing generators, changing services for customers, whether residential, commercial or industrial. He helps wire houses, maintain wiring in houses and do ample repair work — all things for which tech school has prepared him.

"We do it all," he said, sounding like a radio billboard for Hunter. "We do everything that I'll ever have to do in my future."

Except that he's doing it all two weeks a month while still bearing the same responsibility for academics. Darras, a member of the National Honor Society, has advanced placement courses in math (calculus), science (physics) and English.

"I knew I wanted to do something different than everyone else," said Darras, whose coaches and teammates call him "Waterford" because of his hometown. "I thought trade school would be a good idea because tradesmen are in short supply. I could learn something that needs new people in it so there's always a job for be to fall back on."

And isn't there something symbolic, if not poetic, about the same young man learning a trade also doing the no-glory work of the offensive line?

"People don't notice electricians and plumbers until they need one," Darras said. "They don't appreciate tradesmen even though they are keeping the world running. It's the same as being a lineman in football. You don't get the appreciation. But it's a really important job. And you're not doing for yourself, but so everyone else can keep going."

Jake Darras: a walking infomercial for the value of technical schools, especially with today's changing societal circumstances. Pass protection and surge protection. All in a day's work.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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