Sam Darnold’s family has become the stuff of legend. Throughout his time at USC, his grandfather’s role as one of the original Morlboro Man made headlines. The Los Angeles Times detailed Sam’s connection to his grandfather, Dick Hammer.
This particular morsel of Darnold’s past, probably more than any other fact about him, has come to define Darnold’s depiction in media since becoming USC’s starter and leader. It is mentioned during broadcasts of USC’s games. It has been the subject of incredulous tweets, usually with some addendum on how the tweeter’s mind was blown. It is included in most profiles about Darnold, including one in The Los Angeles Times…A better comparison, she suggested, is between Sam Darnold and Hammer, the real man. Out of anyone in the family, Chris Darnold said, Sam, with his shyness and obvious athletic intelligence, was most like Hammer.
Sam’s parents, Mike and Chris Darnold, have watched their son go from being a backup quarterback at USC to a top NFL prospect. Sam is a top NFL draft pick, but his journey into the spotlight has been a quick adjustment for the Darnold family. Sam is soft-spoken, and the amount of attention that comes with being a top NFL draft pick took some getting used to.
“I’ll use [Josh] Rosen as an example,” Darnold explained in a 2017 Los Angeles Times feature. “He had so much attention on him since he was in eighth grade, you know? … He had media coming to his house his sophomore year in high school when he was the huge recruit. I never really had that until last year. It’s been kind of an adjustment for me, obviously, but for my family too.”
Sam had been dating Claire Kirksey, but if the couple is still together they are being very secretive about their relationship. The last social media post featuring a photo together came in September 2017.
Learn more about Sam’s family, and his relationship with Claire.
1. Claire’s Parents Thought Sam Was Scared of Them When They First Met
Sam is a natural introvert, which can sometimes be misconstrued when people first meet him. Claire’s parents thought Sam was scared of them when their daughter first introduced Sam to her parents. The Los Angeles Times detailed the start of their relationship.
He is a natural introvert. Claire met him last fall and was drawn by his lack of pretense and a humility that surprised her. He liked her too, but it took some time before he opened up. When he met her parents for the first time, he hardly talked. They thought they’d scared him. ‘And I’m like, ‘No, that’s just him,’ Claire said.
A July 2017 Los Angeles Times article called Claire Sam’s girlfriend, but since then the regular photos of the couple stopped appearing on Instagram. Either they are no longer dating, or they have decided to keep their relationship out of the spotlight.
2. Sam’s Dad, Mike, Was an Offensive Lineman at the University of Redlands, While His Mother, Chris, Was a Volleyball Player at Long Beach City College
Sports has been a way for the Darnold family to bond, but Sam’s parents did not want to be the overbearing sports parents that have become too common. Sam excelled at a number of sports, but eventually landed on football.
“But, they’re [sports] not everything,” Chris told Bleacher Report. “We’ve always tried to keep things in perspective. Yes, our children have always loved playing sports. But around here, in this part of California, it too often becomes live and die. That’s a big mistake in my opinion. It has to be fun.”
Sam may have grown up in Orange County, California, but his parents are quick to point out that Sam was not handed anything.
“Our kids never went without, but we never had affluence or anything like that,” Mike told The Los Angeles Times. “They never expected stuff or wanted stuff.”
The Los Angeles Times detailed the renovation project Mike and Chris took on when they purchased a foreclosed house.
Mike worked construction. They bought their house, a former drug spot that went into foreclosure, for the price and for what they saw from atop the garage: ocean views.
Chris was pregnant with Franki, and Mike gutted the place and renovated it himself.
3. Sam’s Grandfather, Dick Hammer, Was a Former Marlboro Man, Played on the 1964 U.S. Olympic Volleyball Team & Made the Final 4 With the 1954 USC Basketball Team
Sam comes from a long line of athletes going back to Chris’ father, Dick Hammer, who had quite the resume. Dick was one of the original Marlboro Men, played volleyball in the 1964 Olympics and made the Final Four with USC’s basketball team in 1954. Chris noted her father was not very eager to discuss being the Morlboro Man.
“But it wasn’t something that he was really proud of, in the end,” Chris told The Los Angeles Times. “It’s funny, because we don’t talk about it that much. All of a sudden, we’re talking about the Marlboro Man again. And there was so much more to my dad than just that.”
Chris’ mother, Betty, also played volleyball, something she passed on to five of her six grandchildren. According to The Los Angeles Times, Sam’s grandfather died in 1999 of prostate cancer before he could really get to know him.
4. Sam’s Mother Is a Middle School P.E. Teacher & His Father Is a Medical Gas Plumber
The world was close to seeing Buck Darnold become the franchise quarterback for an NFL team. According to Bleacher Report, Mike wanted his son to have a name that sounded tough. His top choice was Buck, but he was overruled by Chris. Mike may not have gotten his wish on the name, but his son was full of energy growing up. Sam’s mother spoke with Bleacher Report about her son getting kicked out of daycare after his first visit.
“I went to pick him up, and I’ll never forget the woman handing him to me, saying, ‘I just can’t do him anymore,'” Chris recalled to Bleacher Report.
Sam’s parents got their son involved in a number of sports to help him run off his abundance of energy. These sports included taekwondo, basketball, t-ball, soccer and eventually football.
5. Sam’s Sister, Franki, Was a Standout Volleyball Player at Rhode Island & Is Now a Coach With the Team
Sam is not the only athlete in the family. His sister, Franki, was a standout volleyball player at Rhode Island. She had the third-most kills in school history with 1,356. Franki was a two-time Atlantic 10 First Team All-Conference selection. According to Rhode Island athletics, Franki joined the volleyball coaching staff in August 2017. She graduated from the school in 2016 with a degree in Writing and Rhetoric.
Prior to coaching, Franki was a writer for the San Clemente Times, and worked on the Los Angeles Rams game day communications staff. Franki spoke about her experience as a student-athlete at Rhode Island on her blog.
While the four years spent in Rhode Island has brought my most significant personal growth, I attribute much of my personality and core values to my upbringing in the small town of San Clemente, California. Venturing to the east coast to pursue my dream of getting an education and playing four more years of elite volleyball instilled an independence and gratitude that will stay with me forever.