The 330 best and brightest NCAA athletes are invited to the organization's five-day leadership conference in late May in Orlando, Fla. Talk for five minutes to Darrell Stuckey, starting safety for the Kansas University football team, and it's easy to see why he was chosen.
Smart, funny, outgoing, mature, confident, team-oriented. Stuckey has the whole package. On second thought, there is one thing he doesn't quite have a handle on.
An all-state center fielder as a junior at Washington High in Kansas City, Kan., Stuckey proved during Sunday's annual spring intrasquad game at Memorial Stadium just how much more difficult it is to field punts than catch fly balls.
"Can't say I didn't give him a chance," Mangino said with a smile. "One of them missed his body. (Assistant coach) Earle Mosley said, 'I don't mind you missing a punt, but you're at least supposed to make contact.' As long as he does a good job back there at safety, we'll take it."
Last fall, during his red-shirt freshman season, Stuckey started the final four games, missing five games due to an ankle fracture. He looked just fine returning an interception 37 yards for a touchdown for the Blue in a 48-0 washing of the White.
Stuckey studies communications at Kansas, and communicating is what he does best. To use a word he loves saying, Stuckey would be "phenomenal" in the broadcast booth.
Asked about receiver Marcus Henry, the star of the game with 150 receiving yards and three touchdowns, Stuckey said: "It doesn't surprise me at all because he's phenomenal, and his work ethic is very consistent. I've just been waiting for us to call more plays for him. I think the reason there haven't been more plays for him is because he's so quiet. He's not one of those guys who's always saying, 'I'm open. Give me the ball. Give me the ball.' He's so quiet his nickname is Mute. ... Mute's the exact opposite of Terrell Owens."
Stuckey is neither quiet like Henry nor obnoxious like Owens. Making plays from his safety position is Stuckey's second-best skill. Making his mother, Michelle Foulks, proud is his best.
"She loves everything my sister and I do," Stuckey said. "My sister's quite an athlete."
Playing basketball for Butler County Community College as a freshman, Denae Stuckey earned second-team all-conference honors. Iowa State is "looking at her real hard," according to Darrell.
A healthy full season from Stuckey, the addition of junior-college transfer Kendrick Harper at cornerback and an improved pass rush should keep Kansas from having a repeat of 2006, when the Jayhawks' pass defense ranked last in the nation.
"Once spring practice started, we stopped thinking about last year," Stuckey said. "Every day, the focus is to always make it better than yesterday. Better than yesterday. Better than yesterday."
He might never be given the chance to get better at fielding punts. Maybe it's just not his thing.
"I don't know about that," he said. "It's all about being comfortable back there. It's all about getting the reps. That was first time I've done it in the stadium, and the wind is a lot different in the stadium than in the open practice field."
Winds shift. Stuckey does not. Solid guy.