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Put a knucklehead in a fishbowl, and he's bound to expose himself sooner or later. Bang, there goes his reputation, up in smoke. He says he didn't do it. Some even believe him. Others never again will trust him. It happens to athletes all the time.
And then there are the other guys, the silent majority, the gentlemen who go through life using the fame their talent brings them to do nice things for people who don't often have nice things done for them.
Darrell Stuckey, 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior safety for the Kansas University football team, is beloved by professors and tutors, coaches and community-relations personnel. He enjoys talking to disadvantaged youth during the summer. He looks forward to Tuesdays, when he partakes in Fellowship of Christian Athletes huddles. He's a shorter, faster Darnell Jackson in shoulder pads and a helmet. He gets it.
Sometimes, when Stuckey talks to youths, he preaches the value of never giving up, even when it looks like all is lost. Just in case anyone thinks he might be all talk, Stuckey need only click the play button on a tape of the defining play of Saturday night's 29-0 victory against Louisiana Tech at Memorial Stadium.
On first-and-10 from the Louisiana Tech 20 with 10:14 left in the third quarter, burner Phillip Livas rushed around a pick and broke free for an apparent touchdown. Stuckey never stopped chasing him, two sprinters going at it with an announced crowd of 48,621 looking on through the drizzle. Stuckey brought him down at the two-yard line. On the next play, Stuckey used adrenaline to throw running back Patrick Johnson for a four-yard loss. After a pair of incomplete passes, Brad Oestriecher missed a 23-yard field goal, and the shutout was preserved.
Stuckey's catch-him-from-behind play was fresh on KU coach Mark Mangino's mind when he addressed his 2-0 team after the game.
"I told the kids in the locker room a minute ago that the gutsiest play in the game of football is when a player is out in the open running for a touchdown and you're the only guy that can make the play, and you may not have the angle you'd like to have, you have everything going against you, but you go down and make a play," Mangino said. "Phillip Livas is a 4.4 sprinter. Stuckey ran him down, and he had an angle, no question, but Livas nine out of 10 times will outrun that angle, and Darrell showed the fortitude that he was going to make that play, made a stop at the one, and comes back and makes a tackle on the next play. They miss a field goal, and the complexion of the game is completely changed because Darrell Stuckey chose to hustle."
And because he's fast. He said he was timed at 4.4 seconds in the 40 over the summer. He's a leader on a defense that two games into the season hasn't allowed a touchdown.
"A year ago, after I broke my ankle, I was running so slow," Stuckey said. "I couldn't extend. I couldn't accelerate as fast as I can now. I thank God I'm 100 percent now. I felt like I was moving pretty fast."
Looked like it, too. Stuckey also had 10 tackles and a hand in the Bulldogs' other near-miss, deflecting a pass in the end zone that teammate Chris Harris caught for an interception. Stuckey tends to make all his days and nights good ones, but this one was special.