Hankins, a 21-year-old junior philosophy major and wrestler for the Hokies, was pronounced dead at the private quarry outside Blacksburg, home to the Virginia Tech campus.
“He was a very special guy,” Kevin Dresser, Virginia Tech head coach, told the “Roanoke Times” Thursday. “He really made a difference in our program, not just from the wrestling standpoint, but from who he was.”
“I gave him the nickname ‘Batman,’ because in the beginning of his second year, he came into my office and recited a story about Batman and Bruce Wayne, and how Bruce Wayne became different when he was Batman,” Dresser said. “He tried to make an analogy about how when he got different, he got better.”
Recognizing his inspirational storytelling capabilities, Dresser would sometimes give Hankins the opportunity to deliver 10-minute motivational speeches to the team, about various topics, such as being passionate about what they do. Dresser described the motivational speeches as being light-hearted in tone, yet having the power to help fire up the Hokies.
“I like to keep good people around me,” Dresser said. “And Darren was a good person.”
Hankins, who had missed this past season after knee surgery, had more time to devote to another passion of his, producing videos of his Virginia Tech wrestling team.
"He was helping us kind of as a coaching intern, and he really had a knack for that kind of stuff. He put (the videos) to music and posted them on the Virginia Tech wrestling Facebook page," Dresser told the “Virginia Pilot” Thursday. "We took him with us everywhere even though he couldn't wrestle, and he was always shooting video.
"They'll be something to help us remember him by."
“He was very genuine,” Dresser told the “Richmond Times-Dispatch” Thursday. “He was different. He came across as quiet, but when you got to know him and you engaged him, you saw that smile on his face. Very talented. He was just a really, really good communicator in his own way, for a quiet guy.”
“He was a guy I just wanted to keep in the program for all the other reasons,” Dresser continued. “He was a real difference-maker in our program, even without looking at his wrestling résumé.”
Hankins’ high school coach weighs in
"He was the epitome of a great individual," Ben Summerlin, Hankins’ coach at Hickory High School in Chesapeake, Va., was quoted in the “Virginia Pilot”. "Academic, religious and one of the hardest-working athletes I've ever been around.
"He had a heart bigger than his chest."
While at Hickory, Hankins became an Eastern Region champion at 215 pounds who reached the Group AAA Virginia state final. He followed that with a fourth-place finish at the National High School Coaches Association national championships.
"Darren, by far, was one of the hardest-working, training and intelligent athletes I've ever been around," Summerlin told the “Daily Press.”
"I got to watch him become an amazing athlete and earn accolades that I don't even know if he knew were in his reach at the time. He put himself, being so goal-oriented, in position for success. It's such a tragedy and a shock that we lose such a great individual and young man."
"(Hankins) was 'Mr. Humility,'" Summerlin said. "He was the guy that every day at the end of practice wanted to work on one more hold. His entire senior year, I don't think I left the wrestling room before it was getting close to 8 or 8:30, because he'd stay and work out. He always wanted to put more in."
As a Virginia Tech wrestler, Hankins came home when he could to work with the Hickory Area Wrestling Club, a group of elementary- and middle-school-aged children.
"He'd come back and train with our team and with the kids, and it meant a lot to all of them," Summerlin said. "He really set an example of how to become a great person and athlete. And I was enjoying watching him becoming a great man.”
"He was always a big brother to everybody in the room, even though he was a younger brother in his family," Summerlin said. "Just compassionate and all-around a great person, and we're all at a loss for losing a person like Darren, but he was an impactful person. I know that the athletes he trained with, the people that trained him, they're going to carry his impact with them for many, many, many, many years."
"He's the first athlete I've ever lost," Summerlin continued. "We were supposed to go to Pennsylvania for a team camp, but we want to make sure we're here for the family.
"He's going to be greatly missed, but at least now I have a strong angel."
VT planning to honor Hankins
Dresser, who said he began hearing rumors a Tech athlete had drowned early Wednesday evening, later received a phone call from the Virginia Tech police department confirming the tragic news.
With most of his athletes out of town this week, Dresser called a team meeting for those on campus and sent text messages to those who were away.
“It was difficult,” Dresser said. “Not as difficult as the knock on the door his parents got at 10:30 last night. It was emotional, very emotional.”
Dresser said an on-campus memorial is being planned, most likely for next week.