A short time ago, in a county nearby, an intense storm began to brew.
The thick dark clouds ominously loomed, and covered the sky with their terrible promise.
Beneath these clouds, the Hanover Rhinos practiced.
This could describe any number of this year’s fall practices for this franchise, which was trying to rediscover the lofty goals of its not-too-distant past.
No one is quite sure during which one of these practices the name Darkside became indelibly attached to the Rhinos defense, but one thing is for certain- it’s here to stay.
What exactly does Darkside mean?
To capture the essence of Darkside, one must look at the man who coined the term, Brandon Nicastro.
In 2009, while Nicastro was playing football for The College of The Canyons, darkside was born. “When I played football in college, we came up with the nickname and I carried it over to the Rhinos,” Nicastro said. “We came up with the name “darkside”, because the defense is basically the dark side of the force. We like to hit, and hit hard.”
Nicastro played for the inaugural Rhinos’ team in the spring of 2012. He remembers his early attempts at naming the defense darkside.
“In 2012, I said it a few times, but it didn’t stick with anyone,” he said.
Despite not finding success with the nickname, Nicastro came through as an AFA all-star in his first season. His seminal moment was a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown, a score that sealed Hanover’s only win to date against the rival Maryland Phantoms.
“It was a lot of fun, but also very difficult,” Nicastro said of that first season. “We found a good group of guys for our starting defense, but our offense lacked a good line and the connection between receivers and quarterbacks, so our defense was always on the field, and not to mention we had a few head coaching changes throughout the season, which made it hard to solidify our program.”
Five years later, in the wake of a disastrous 2-8 season, and with Nicastro back on the team after a four-year hiatus, the Rhinos are embracing the nickname that he brought to the table in 2012.
“I’ve been contemplating coming back every year,” Nicastro said. “I just couldn’t justify it, due to the lack of time I had, but my best friend Adam Day and I got together one day and had a ‘if you play, I’ll play’ conversation, and now here we are.”
When Nicastro showed up for training camp, he mentioned darkside.
“It really was overnight, it embodied all of us, and we had that darkside mentality,” Nicastro said. “It seemed like it gave the defense more excitement and made everyone play harder.”
Born out of those dark, cloudy days at the Hanover YMCA practice field, Darkside became the rallying cry for the Rhinos as they prepared for their first scrimmage, the Santa Bowl.
The original nickname, darkside, became Darkside. It’s one little difference, a capital letter, but it embodies the spirit of a whole defensive unit.
Tryouts this fall produced a bevy of new faces on the roster. Rookies and veterans alike warmed up to Darkside. Nicastro’s best friend Day, who is a rookie linebacker, caught on immediately, and named himself Boba Fett.
“I just think he’s cool, how he never says much and everyone knows not to mess with him,” Day said of the intergalactic bounty-hunter.
Day passed mention of Darkside on to Rhino lifer Charles Smith, who decided he was most like Darth Maul.
“Adam (Day) started calling the defense Darkside,” Smith said. “It went from there, and it just stuck. Everybody fits their alter-ego in strengths and weaknesses.”
Nicastro chose to be the most famous character from the movie franchise, Darth Vader. “(It’s) because (Vader) is a leader and a force to be reckoned with,” Nicastro said.
The defensive mastermind of the group is Adam Bostian, the defensive coordinator who has been with the Rhinos in some capacity since 2012. Bostian appeared on this month’s magazine cover as Palpatine, the leader of the empire in the original movie series.
Darkside played like they put a bounty on the football for the Santa Bowl. By the conclusion of the annual December charity game, the Southern Maryland Gladiators lay battered and broken under the force of 5 turnovers, 3 sacks, 1 safety, and a defensive touchdown.
In just one game, the forceful Rhinos’ defense had record 1/4 as many turnovers as they had during the 2016 regular season, and 1/3 the sacks. The safety was the first since Adriel Garibay recorded one in the last week of the 2014 season at Germantown.
Speaking of Garibay, he’s back, and he’s restoring the potent punch to the Rhinos’ defensive line. Garibay will be looking to deliver a similar performance to Kody Taylor’s team record 15 sacks two years ago, and the Rhinos were a playoff team that year.
“Feels good to be back and bring my abilities to the team,” Garibay said. “Looking to make my presence felt on the field, and help the team in any way I can.”
Garibay played with Carroll County in 2015, and suited up for just the first two games of 2016, before taking the rest of the season to focus on his firefighting academy training.
The New Oxford graduate is tied with Lloyd Williams for the most career quarterback hurries in Rhinos’ history.
“The defense can be more aggressive,” Bostian said of having Garibay on the field.
His presence also adds to the mystique of Darkside.
Garibay describes Darkside as “A force that envelops anything that comes near or tries to pass through.”
Bostian, a linebacker for South Western in the early 2000’s, was a player for the two winning seasons in Rhinos history, 2013 and 2014. He was the head coach for the last Hanover team to make the playoffs in 2015.
He moved back solely to the role of co-owner starting the 2016 season, a period of time in which the Rhinos gave up 208 points in the first 7 games. He took over defensive play-calling duties for the last 3 weeks of 2016.
“When I took over, I did see a change, more excitement and grit,” Bostian said.
That level of excitement and grit has been taken to a new level since the dawn of Darkside.
Bostian, who loved the name immediately, didn’t realize it would come to symbolize the very spirit of his defensive unit.
“I never had a name for my defense,” he said. “I didn’t think it would stick, but I started seeing hashtags and banners, and the guys kept it going, now we are the Darkside.”