Senior Profile: Call Me ‘Dirty’


Mike Darrow ‘14 hustles for the Macalester Club Rugby Team. He also often plays for the Minneapolis Mayhem rugby squad. Photo by Jody Russell Photography.

Mike Darrow ‘14 hustles for the Macalester Club Rugby Team. He also often plays for the Minneapolis Mayhem rugby squad. Photo by Jody Russell Photography.
Mike Darrow ‘14 hustles for the Macalester Club Rugby Team. He also often plays for the Minneapolis Mayhem rugby squad. Photo by Jody Russell Photography.

Sweat sprinkled down on Kagin Lawn as exasperated pants punched through the humid mid-August Minnesota night. It was 2010, and Macalester Football’s new freshman fullback could barely hold himself upright. Unimpressed with his lack of fatigue after the team’s workout, Mike Darrow ’14 (Menlo Park, Calif.) had elected to run an additional 2.5 miles after practice.

Keeled-over and dripping perspiration, the 5’9” 180-pound Twin Cities transplant desperately sought a shower. Unaccustomed to college conditions, he had left his dorm key in his room. As another first-year walked past him towards the Dupre doors, Darrow chased in pursuit, determined to find refuge from the blistering heat.

Upon entering the dorm, the frazzled footballer lurched into the first floor lounge towards a couch covered with preseason athletes. Unperturbed, he plopped down amidst the group, many of whom he had never met.

“Could I borrow someone’s keys so I can let myself into Turck and shower?” he said, breaking the stunned silence.

As he did so, he leaned forward revealing a spectacular sweat mark that soaked his seat cushion. “Dirty Mike,” said Scott Gannis ’14, one of Darrow’s freshman teammates in the room.

The nickname stuck, just as Darrow temporarily did to the couch that August evening. “I saw the opportunity to have a nickname that people would remember,” Darrow said. “Dirty Mike was the name of someone who I would’ve wanted to know more about. It was a risk, but I ran with it, and here I am.”

The stark contrast between assumptions people might make about someone nicknamed ‘Dirty’ and the real Dirty isn’t the only contradiction about Mike Darrow. Walking around campus Darrow typically sports a familiar outfit—his well-worn green and yellow high school letter jacket and blue jeans. Black headphones with ‘Dirty Mike’ etched on the top accent his inviting glasses. Heavy metal is Darrow’s music of choice, and he unapologetically bangs his head up-and-down as he jaunts across campus.

“Surprising people by not being a dumb jock is a guilty pleasure of mine,” he said. “I like implicitly presenting myself one way, and then explicitly contradicting that presentation. I think it reinforces, for me, and for others, that the assumptions we make about others are often untrue.”

Darrow has taken this philosophy a step further by holding people he meets to the same standards. “I ask myself, ‘Am I in a position to judge you?’” Darrow said. “The answer is no.”

Silicon Youth

Growing up in Silicon Valley, Darrow developed an early proclivity for the sciences. As a four-year-old, he received a book on the human body as a gift. In the subsequent years, he gobbled up the dense hardcover, learning about everything from carbon monoxide to HIV/AIDS. By age seven, he estimated that his biological knowledge exceeded that of the average adult.

While Darrow’s intellect surpassed most of his peers, his body lagged behind. In elementary and middle school, many people assumed he was two or three years younger than his actual age. Living in a household of athletes—his dad “excelled at any sport he tried” and his younger brother was “always a key player and a starter”—Darrow’s disinterest in sports was met somewhat harshly. “I was generally a benchwarmer, one of the kids who just didn’t ‘get’ sports,” Darrow said.

In his early years, he dabbled in Shaolin Kempo Karate, soccer, basketball, baseball, reality-based mixed martial arts, football and track and field. While Darrow eventually gave up several of those sports, he went on to earn his Black Belt and graduated high school with letters in football, baseball, soccer and track and field. However, it wasn’t until his junior year—when his high school formed a football team—that Darrow began playing the sport for which Macalester recruited him.

Mike at Mac

As the clock ticked on Darrow’s college decision, it came down to Macalester and rival Carleton. While he acknowledged that both schools offer similar amenities, Darrow was impressed by the level of interest the Macalester coaching staff showed him along with the benefits of the Twin Cities.

While football played into his college choice, Darrow admitted that certain aspects of the game still elude him. “I am very poor at catching a football, and the intricacies of blocking schemes and pass routes still elude me,” he said. “I still don’t know the difference between a free safety and a strong safety.

Additionally, much of the football lingo used to describe passroutes or plays is simply not in my vocabulary. I couldn’t tell you what I don’t understand because I don’t even know how to say it. I just like to run and hit people.”

And run and hit people he did. In his Macalester career, Darrow accumulated 25 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble. The vast majority of those totals come from a strong senior campaign in which he rotated with Zach Hauser ’16 as a starting defensive tackle. While Darrow’s stats aren’t particularly earth-shattering—his 21 tackles last season were 13th on the team—they represent a trajectory of progress for a California kid who barely made it on the field during his first two collegiate seasons.

Darrow said speed training proved to be the difference in his development. In the summer before his junior season, he dropped a quarter second from his 40-yard dash time, which he credited to his mixed martial arts training in the offseason.

While speed training helped his performance on the football field, it most directly benefited Darrow’s achievements on the track. In three years, Darrow has knocked his 200-meter time down more than a second from the 26-second range as a freshman to a 24.41 this season.

Despite not holding varsity athletic standing, club rugby is arguably the sport most dear to Darrow. A hooker and flanker on the Macalester team, Darrow has also competed with the Minneapolis Mayhem, one of the top club teams in the state.

Comedy and Curiosity

Although Darrow recently elevated his athletic success, his strength as a consummate teammate and student off the field has been constant. “If I ever am having a bad day, I go right to my house and look for Dirty,” said Adam Ward ’14, Darrow’s teammate and housemate of three years. “He knows exactly how to cheer me up.”

Football teammate Michael Abramson ’15 recalled coincidently boarding a flight from the Bay Area to Mac withDirty Mike two summers ago. “It’s not a small airport, and there were a lot of people there that day,” Abramson said, “but I could notice him right away. There was no missing him.”

This was because Darrow had shaved half of his head and half of his beard, on opposite sides. “I figured, why not?” Darrow said.

“I laughed for 15 minutes on the flight, 30 minutes when I saw him back at school and every time it came up after that,” Abramson said. “I admire his shamelessness. You have to be confident to pull something like that.”

In the classroom, Darrow maintains a 3.6 GPA in Physics (his major) and a 3.4 GPA outside his major. He has spent his past two summers conducting physics research at Stanford University in collaboration with NASA. According to him, the work he does is driven by three core principles: curiosity, independence and honesty. Darrow’s former English professor Kristin Naca fondly recalled having Mike in class several years ago. “Oh yes, Mike!” she said, chuckling. “Every class with Mike was a fun class. He’s got a tremendous sense of humor, and a vast well of knowledge to draw from. I wish I could have more students like Mike.”

After graduating next month, Darrow intends on pursuing a Master’s degree in Materials Science with the long-term goal of earning a PhD. He leaves behind the ‘campus icon’ status that he earned as a result of his provocative nickname and controverting personality.

“He’s a guy that earned the title ‘Dirty Mike’ in his first week on campus, and still seems to have more friends than anyone else I see around campus,” said Bonnie Bentson ’14, a classmate of Darrow’s. “I think I’d say he’s one of the most beloved guys on campus.”

dirty mike

Additional reporting by Konnor Fleming ‘15.