Young Darian spent as much time as he could with his cousins, the Wickliffe twins, Derrick and Eric, who lived two blocks away. The twins were three years older than Darian and lived for sports. Hagan, who idolized his cousins, did too. "Football, basketball, baseball—we played some sport every single day," says Derrick, now a defensive back at East Central ( Okla.) University. (Eric played one year as a defensive back at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.) "That was how you stayed out of trouble. I know a lot of guys who could have played somewhere if they hadn't gotten mixed up with drugs and gangs."
By the time he was in third grade, Darian was sleeping over at the Wickliffes' several times a week. No one can recall exactly when he began living there; they just know that he did, which meant abiding by his Aunt Brenda's rules: make your bed, wash your dishes, mop the floors and take out the trash. "And they had to maintain their grades, or I'd take them out of sports," says Brenda. Most important, Brenda insisted that the boys let her know their whereabouts after dark. "I knew where they were every minute," she says.
Still, Hagan did have a few scrapes. One autumn afternoon in ninth grade he was walking home from Enterprise Park with his friend Leonard Hicks. Both boys wore the red uniforms of their Pop Warner team, the Enterprise Broncos. The uniforms caught the attention of a group of Crips who were driving by in two cars. "They slowed down and looked at us real strange," says Hagan. "When they were gone, I said, 'Leonard, they're coming back.' "
Moments later, tires squealed behind them—the gangsters had gone around the block and were back. Darian turned to Leonard. "But he was already gone," says Hagan.
Leonard sprinted into his house and locked the front door. One of the Crips approached the door, brandishing a gun, but eventually went away. Darian made tracks for an alley behind the Hicks house, which was a shortcut to his own house, but a locked gate blocked his path. "So I just kicked it in," he says. He got away. Later, he called the Hicks house and had this conversation with Leonard's mother:
" Darian Hagan, are you O.K.?"
"Then get your scary ass down here and fix my goddam gate."
So, what is Leonard doing these days? "He's doing time," says Hagan. "And the guy who followed him to the door with the gun—he got killed last year."
A few years after Hagan's narrow escape a close friend of his, Tushan Wilson, was beaten and kicked to death by a gang only a block or so away from Locke High. "I don't mean to sound pessimistic, but I don't see an end to any of this," says Robinson.