LANDOVER, Md. -- With each completion, Sam Darnold raises the excitement level of the quarterback-starved fans who root for the New York Jets. They're giddy in Gotham, but it can't compare to the adulation in his hometown: San Clemente, California.
They might as well rename it Sam Clemente.
The coastal city of about 63,000, located midway between Los Angeles and San Diego, gives Darnold a civic embrace whenever he plays on TV. On Thursday night, One Eleven Coastal -- a restaurant that hosted a Darnold draft-night celebration -- will have a watch party for the Jets' preseason game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. There's a good chance Darnold will start the game, which means happy hour will be very happy for kickoff at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Darnold is everywhere around town, thanks to a clever idea by his former high school coach, Jaime Ortiz, who helped develop a Darnold bobblehead. It features Darnold in his old San Clemente High jersey, No. 18. It costs $20 (proceeds go to the football program) and it arrives in a box that refers to him as "San Clemente's Hometown Hero."
You haven't arrived as a professional athlete unless you've been immortalized with a bobblehead.
"The hair on the bobblehead actually looks a little bit better than mine in real life, so I give them props on that," Darnold said, laughing. "I think it looks like me. They did a pretty good job. Coach Ortiz over there at the high school is really into it. It's really cool to see kind of the buzz that goes around these bobbleheads floating around the whole city of San Clemente. It seems like when I go to see a friend who I haven't seen in a while, they always have their bobbleheads. It's pretty funny to go to their house and see that surprise. That's always different."
Ortiz got the idea from nearby Capistrano Valley High, which launched a bobblehead campaign for alum Kyle Hendricks, a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. After a couple of phone calls, Ortiz sent pictures of Darnold to the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in Wisconsin, where the doll was designed.