As Stefon Diggs (left) and the Terps begin practice Monday,… (Karl Merton Ferron and Algerina…)
Stefon Diggs' poignant words are echoing in cyberspace. They are like cries in the darkness.
"I just wanna hear his voice," Maryland's best football player says in a Twitter message directed to no one and everyone. "Show him everything I've done and how far I've came."
The 19-year-old receiver's posts about his late father come in bursts. Only those close to Diggs — who had one of the most prolific freshman seasons in Terps history in 2012 — know the powerful back story.
They know Aron Diggs — a bear of a man at 6-3, 230 pounds whose nickname was "Big A" — applied tough love to Stefon and younger brother Trevon as he groomed them to be football players from the age of 4. They know he continued to coach his sons in a Montgomery County youth football league even as his heart condition worsened and his energy diminished, often reducing him to sitting on a chair on the sideline. As the illness progressed, he'd ask his wife, Stephanie, for reports from his hospital bed on the boys' games.
Aron (pronounced AY-Ron) Diggs died of congestive heart failure in January 2008 at age 39 waiting for a heart transplant that never came.
In the two years before his death, Stefon cut and combed his father's hair and buckled his watch around his wrist. His father had always kept an orderly appearance, and Stefon didn't want him to lose his dignity even as he was losing his health.
My father did a good job while he was alive — Stefon Diggs on Twitter, June 12
It would be hard to overstate how much Aron Diggs' life — and death — influenced his sons. Even as they mourn his loss, they still seem to somehow be seeking his affirmation. He was often slow to dish out praise, making any compliment a valuable commodity.
Last season, Stefon, who is listed at 6-1, 195 pounds, caught 54 passes for 848 yards and finished with the second-most all-purpose yards (1,896) in a single season in program history. Maryland, coming off a 4-8 season, opens training camp Monday.
Trevon — who wears the same jersey number ("1") as his older brother — is a slim, wildly athletic cornerback, receiver and returner at Rockville's Wootton High School. He has already received offers from Maryland and Virginia and attention from Nebraska and other top football schools, according to Tyree Spinner, his coach.
"I have to say Aron put all this together," Stephanie Diggs, 46, said recently of her sons' success as she sat next to Trevon at Wootton, where he is entering his sophomore season.
"Growing up, they only knew football and school. They didn't even know the kids in the neighborhood — it was that strict," the mother said. "It's funny how you look back. They were trick-or-treating once and Stefon had on a Power Ranger outfit, and my husband looked at me and said, 'He's going to make it to the [National Football] League.' "
Aron Diggs was mostly a stay-at-home dad who tried to start several businesses but was unable to work in the years before his death. He sensed early that his sons had prodigious football talent, but he was determined that they not be prima donnas. He wanted them always to be striving for something.
"He was a menacing guy if you didn't know him," said Garrett King, who coached with Aron in the Montgomery Village Chiefs youth football program. "He may have been tougher on his boys than anyone. He was so tough on them that my wife was like, 'You've got to talk to Coach Aron.' But it was a shell. He was tough, but he was fair and he got the most out of his players. At the end of the year, he'd go into his own pocket and buy the kids things."
Aron Diggs, who had played Amateur Athletic Union basketball, was known for his large hands. That is also a hallmark of his sons.
Stefon's hands are so large they appear almost mismatched — as if they should be attached to a much larger body.
Trevon, who is 14 and still growing — he played last season at 155 pounds but says he is now up to 170 — is already wearing the largest size (XXL) Cutters gloves for his position.
Trevon, who also aspires to play in the NFL, has instinctive moves and an "uncanny ability to read the ball in the air. He's going to be a tired kid on Friday night," said Spinner, who plans to use the player on offense, defense and as a returner.
What better way to make your father proud than to be more of a man than him — Stefon Diggs on Twitter, June 25
Stefon and Trevon rarely seem satisfied with their results on the field. Those who know them say they internalized that trait from their demanding father.
Last season, Stefon sometimes brooded after defeats. Animated and emotional on the field, he occasionally made mistakes — such as fumbling a punt in a win at Temple — trying to do too much.