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Originally published August 26, 2009 at 12:00a.m., updated August 26, 2009 at 03:34a.m.

Stuckey, by the book

KU safety always stood out on, off field

Safety Darrell Stuckey is one of the most decorated Kansas University football players, but his mom and those who saw him grow up say he might be a better person than a player.

Safety Darrell Stuckey is one of the most decorated Kansas University football players, but his mom and those who saw him grow up say he might be a better person than a player.

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Michelle Foulks pulls out a black, three-ring binder in her Kansas City, Kan., home and sets it on the blue loveseat in front of her.

The white piece of paper on the front cover reads “Darrell’s Achievements” in a bold font with a black-and-white, clip-art fair ribbon printed underneath the two words. Also slipped into the front cover are two KU football ticket stubs from 2004, two identical Jayhawk football recruit stickers that read: “Darrell Stuckey/K.C. Washington High School” and a folded, red Tootsie-Roll wrapper that has an Indian aiming his bow-and-arrow at a star.

“This is your book,” Foulks told her son as a young boy. “All your accomplishments go in here. Everything.”

The binder is four inches thick, and as Foulks turns the pages, Darrell Stuckey’s story becomes clearer.

There are items in there you’d expect: the high-school baseball stats, the Hershey’s track and field certificates, the preseason all-state football team from 2004 that includes a picture of a blond, baby-face kid named Kerry Meier.

But that’s only part of Darrell’s story. The book also contains the “A” he received on a math cumulative review in 2002, an umpiring certificate, sketches of the Tasmanian Devil he drew in class, his D.A.R.E. completion award and a “Proud Parent of an Honor Student” bumper sticker.

“He’s trying to be this well rounded person, and I know where he’s going with it,” Foulks says, her dark eyes intensifying. “Football’s not going to last forever.”

• • •

Kansas University senior safety Darrell Stuckey leans forward in his black Team FCA T-shirt. A bracelet around his wrist announces “OW2P” — One Way to Play, a Fellowship of Christian Athletes campaign that demands athletes play alcohol- and drug-free.

It doesn’t take long to see Stuckey isn’t just here to wear his faith.

He’s also here to share it.

Just 20 minutes after meeting you, Darrell is ready to tell a story. It’s about David Stuckey Sr., his grandfather.

The elder Stuckey, a 5-foot-7, 150 pounder, never let his small stature hold him back.

He boxed men twice his size — men who later told him he hit like a hammer.

He bowled 300 games three times and hit multiple home runs in slow-pitch softball over the age of 50.

Darrell still remembers bowling with his grandfather during a bye week last year.

“You’re getting pretty good, little peanut-head,” David told him with a laugh.

But something wasn’t right. Darrell couldn’t help but notice how his grandfather was coughing.

Darrell could tell there was something wrong by the sound of his grandfather’s hacks.

“He was one of those guys that loved you so much that, if he was hurting, he wouldn’t want you to hurt with him,” Darrell says.

A short time later, Darrell’s fears were confirmed. His grandfather had cancerous ulcers in his stomach. David was in Stage IV. His cancer was too far advanced for an operation.

On March 3, 2009, Darrell was told his grandfather had between 24 hours and two weeks to live. The next day, Darrell drove to Kansas City to see his grandfather — he knew, perhaps, for the final time.

Darrell prayed silently in the car to himself: “God, please just let him make it. Please let him make it, Lord. Please let him make it.”

As soon as he was finished praying, just 10 miles away from the hospital, Darrell received a call.

He was too late. His grandfather had passed away.

“My heart just stopped,” Darrell says.

Next to Darrell in the car was a poem he had written. It was titled, “My Hero.” Darrell was going to read it to the man who had inspired it.

But instead, with his tears blurring the road ahead of him, Darrell came to the realization that his grandfather would never get to hear it.

Darrell started praying again. At that moment, he noticed something on the windshield. A sprinkle. Then another. Then a few more.

In the driver’s seat of his car on the outskirts of Kansas City in the middle of a prayer, Darrell found himself comforted by a spring rainstorm.

“I feel like God was mourning with me and saying, ‘It’s OK. It’s OK to have pain, but you also can find joy in this pain,’” Darrell says. “‘Just know that he’s with me.’”

• • •

Michelle Foulks calls Darrell Stuckey her “blessed child.”

When Stuckey was in sixth grade, he was picked up by an eighth-grade classmate in the locker room before being dropped through a glass window of a teacher’s office.

Foulks holds her fingers an inch apart. That’s how close a piece of glass came to hitting one of Darrell’s major arteries, an accident that could have killed him.

Stuckey always had been the daring one. One time, when Stuckey was 6, Foulks couldn’t find her son after he’d wandered outside of the house.

With tears in her eyes, she screamed out his name, “Darrell! Darrell!”

Finally, she heard a quiet voice from above her.

“Mommy, I’m up here.”

Stuckey had climbed up into a treehouse by himself to hang out with some of the older kids in the neighborhood.

Stuckey was the athletic one, too.

He always won the limbo competition at the local roller rink because he’d do the splits straight out. One day, Michelle looked outside and saw her son doing back handsprings.

“He’d never taken gymnastics before in his life,” she says.

Still, it wasn’t always a certainty that he’d be built like an athlete.

When he was younger, Darrell wasn’t big at all. In fact, to play in the “heavy” football league as a fifth-grader, Stuckey had to gain seven pounds in two weeks before the weigh-in.

“He was so short. I used to almost think he was going to be a midget,” Foulks says. “I really did.”

After stuffing himself with loads of starch, potatoes and meat, Stuckey checked in at three pounds over the minimum requirement. His team went on to win the championship that year.

Stuckey finally had his growth spurt in middle school, and in the span of a year, Foulks had to buy him all new clothes.

Since then, there was no question that her son would thrive in sports.

Stuckey played football, basketball and baseball, and he was good at all three.

High school friends began calling him, asking him to come to their school. A few buddies at K.C. Turner even volunteered to have Stuckey stay with them Monday through Friday so he would be eligible to play there. He politely declined.

Most important to Foulks, though, was the young man that Stuckey was growing up to be.

As the head of a single-parent household, Foulks made sacrifices early on for her children. She gave up alcohol, determined never to let her children see her drink.

She also traded in her once-a-week dancing nights at the Adam’s Mark Hotel for drive-in movie night with her kids. Every Friday, Foulks would grab fast-food before going to the Boulevard Drive-In Theatre in Kansas City, Kan., where $5 would get all of them in for two movies.

She also admits she was tougher on Stuckey than she was on her daughter, Denae. Foulks believed he needed that.

“Leader, leader, leader,” Foulks always told Stuckey. “You’re a leader and not a follower.”

“I tried to beat that in his head by saying it all the time,” Foulks says.

Foulks knows he was listening. As he grew older, a lot of Darrell’s friends stopped coming by the house.

“Son, what’s going on?” Foulks would ask.

The responses from Stuckey were different but the same.

“That guy’s all into girls now.” “He’s hanging with the wrong crowd.” “He’s getting high all the time.”

Foulks was seeing Stuckey grow up right in front of her.

“I thank God,” Foulks says, “that he didn’t follow his friends.”

• • •

Former K.C. Washington baseball coach Tim Cordill never saw Darrell Stuckey as a follower.

Cordill has seen kids fall by the wayside. One of his former players robbed a bank and went to jail. Others he worried about whenever they were on their own.

Cordill never worried about Stuckey.

“lt just seemed like, early on, he was the leader of those guys,” Cordill says. “I think the way that he lives and how he goes about carrying himself and living his life, I think those other guys couldn’t do it. ... I think they all wanted to be him deep down inside, but I think it was too hard for them.”

It has been bittersweet for Cordill to watch Stuckey’s rise to one of the top football players in the Big 12.

Sure, Cordill is happy. But the former minor-league umpire can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Stuckey stayed with baseball.

Sometimes, Stuckey still makes the comment to his mother: “If I would have went to baseball, I’d have been a pro already.”

Cordill doesn’t disagree.

“Every time we played,” Cordill says, “he always had the strongest arm on the field. He was always the fastest guy.”

In 18 games as a junior (Stuckey ran track his senior year to prepare himself for collegiate football), Stuckey had six home runs, 24 RBIs, a .604 average, 17 stolen bases and no errors in the outfield. When the team ran 60-yard dashes in practice, Cordill said none of Stuckey’s teammates came within 10 yards of him.

Cordill has been to enough tryouts to say with near-certainty that if Stuckey walked into one today, he’d get signed by a major-league team on athleticism alone.

But there was much more to Stuckey, Cordill says.

He was silly, and Cordill still swears that Stuckey probably wears SpongeBob SquarePants pajamas and watches cartoons when he wakes up.

But then again, he was mature — even in high school.

“It just seemed like he grew at a much higher level than anyone else did, because he wasn’t making mistakes to figure out who he was,” Cordill says. “He already knew who he was by the time he got there.”

Cordill, who met up with Stuckey this summer after one of his daughter’s dance recitals in Lawrence, says not much has changed since Stuckey was at K.C. Washington.

More than anything, Cordill sees Stuckey as a person of integrity.

In high school, the coach took 10 of his baseball players to a camp in Arizona. Many of them ran around the hotel at night. One had to be sent home early.

But then there was Stuckey, who made new friends and conducted himself well and happily took instruction from other coaches and players.

During Stuckey’s junior year, Cordill was given the chance to take batting practice at Kauffman Stadium. He also was allowed to take one friend with him.

Cordill chose Stuckey.

The coach says it was one of the best days he’s ever had, just watching Stuckey run foul pole to foul pole in the blistering sun, chasing down every baseball within 300 feet of him.

“Just to see his eyes light up ... it was fun to watch him,” Cordill says. “I wish some days I had energy like that.”

No, Cordill never did get to see the progression of Darrell Stuckey, the baseball player.

He doesn’t seem too upset, though.

That’s because he’s still been able to see the progression of Darrell Stuckey, the man.

“If I had a son, and let’s say my son was born a paraplegic and would never play sports in his life,” Cordill says, “I would still want him to be just like Darrell.”

Cordill pauses.

“That’s saying a lot.”

• • •

When Darwin Franklin took over as head football coach at K.C. Washington as a 24-year-old, he was trying to be a good role model for sophomore Darrell Stuckey.

A funny thing happened, though. Stuckey became a good role model for him.

“You probably don’t hear that a lot from a coach, coaching a student,” Franklin says with a laugh. “Shoot, the way that he helped me grow, and hopefully, I helped him grow.”

One day a week, Franklin would make his players run 1,600 yards after a three-hour practice.

Franklin says Stuckey sprinted every one. And afterwards, he’d do backflips on the field to get laughs from his teammates.

Franklin also saw Stuckey as a genuine person.

“It’s a hard thing in this day and age, to find somebody that young, with that much popularity, but still can sit there and say, ‘I’m not perfect, but I just want to do the right thing,’” Franklin says.

When the two walked off the field after Stuckey’s last game, Franklin gave Stuckey and hug and said, “Thank you for trusting me. Thank you for sticking it out with me.”

“Coach,” Stuckey said, “it wouldn’t have been any other way. You were the best man for the job.”

“That’s when I really knew,” Franklin says, “that I did something right.”

• • •

The three-ring binder begins with a yellow newsletter, giving the highlights of a fifth-grade, Kansas City-area football league. It ends with a certificate, congratulating Darrell Stuckey for being a part of a team that tied for the Big 12 North championship in 2007.

There are a few blank protective sheets left at the end. Darrell Stuckey’s story isn’t quite finished.

Perhaps the pages will be filled this year. Maybe the safety will lead the Kansas defense to a Big 12 championship game. Or maybe there will be a story about Darrell being taken in the 2010 NFL Draft. That’s possible, too.

One thing’s for sure: Stuckey isn’t taking any chances with his future. On campus, he’s a Student Senator, a SAAC Executive Board member, a member of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee of Athletics, the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity treasurer and recruiting chair and a founding member of the FCA huddle at KU.

“Now’s the time to be ambitious,” Stuckey says.

No, Stuckey shouldn’t have any trouble filling in those final pages.

After all, football is only part of his story.

“I’ll bet you a lot of those guys are thinking, ‘I can’t wait until I get to the NFL.’ Darrell wakes up every day, and he just likes to be alive,” Cordill says. “If he never plays past college, I’m sure he’ll be good at whatever he does.”

• A previous version of this story contained an error.

Comments

gardenjay 10 years, 3 months ago

Look, Jesse, this is a beautiful story. So, do not take my criticism any way other than Darrell would, OK? We are a constructive fan-base.

You just have a few things here, like 'backfield' should have been 'backflip' for example, and there is that poorly explained segment about being dropped - but not quite? - through a window, as well as a weird transition here and there. Perhaps it got posted before it was run by an editor, or that the editor was really distracted or too emotional after reading this to do his job.

In any case - GREAT ARTICLE! It is so great to have a Darrell Stuckey on our team. He is doing just what every student athlete needs to do - college work. Blow out a knee and there goes your career? Ridiculous.

With a man like that influencing our team, then I'm feeling like we're winners already. They're so KU! Go KU!

William James 10 years, 3 months ago

Darrell is the classiest KU athlete I have met in my lifetime. When he is done at the professional level, we could sure use him back here.

Ted Toulouse 10 years, 3 months ago

Awesome, awesome awesome.
My prediction is that Stuckey will be a better pro than Briscoe off of this team. He's got the size, speed and mental ability to be an extremely productive pro.

10 DAYS UNTIL GAMEDAY!!

jayhawkintx73 10 years, 3 months ago

Wow. Some great kids on this team. I see big things in Stuckey's future. NFL will be calling next Spring. I'm very proud of so many of these kids and how they aren't just good football players, but good students. The game of football or any other sport, the way Mangino coaches has ingrained these kids with a some very valuable assets. Work Ethics, Team Work, Self Discipline, Integrity, Self Accountability(knowing what their role in the team is) and concentrating on what they can control on the field. Stuckey last season made some great plays that benefited team. Chasing the little wide receiver down early in the season, in which they prevented a TD on that drive. Chasing down Chase Daniel, forcing the fumble, and then recovering it that put the momentum right back with KU at Arrowhead. That 2nd interception he made was huge. You can tell he prepared for that game and that is the work ethic. The team work is him not giving up on a play. The Integrity is playing for the team's benefit. The Self Accountability, knowing what his job is and doing it. He's a phenomenally intelligent player. I can't say enough about him.

JayViking 10 years, 3 months ago

One of my favorite KU Football videos ever...

Love watching Stuckey play!

quigley 10 years, 3 months ago

One of the best stories I've read on here in a long time. Well done.

jayhawk02 10 years, 3 months ago

I only wish I had been as mature as Darrell when I was in college.....would have kept me out of a lot of trouble and hangovers. Anyway, I am sooooo glad he is involved in FCA and shares his faith with others (ala Wayne Simeon). It's great to have guys on the team that are not only tremendous athletes, but are men of character as well. Best of luck Darrell and may God bless you.

Patrick Leiker 10 years, 3 months ago

Stuckey is one of my favorite KU athletes of all time. I know we will all enjoy watching him for one last year before he goes on to bigger and better things.

mdfraz 10 years, 3 months ago

Great player, well rounded student, and sounds like a role model of a human being. I'm an absolute fanatic when it comes to KU football, but it's important to realize that there is a lot more to life than the game, and a guy like Darrell Stuckey is a spectacular influence on the field, on campus, and probably anywhere else family, friends, or stangers would have a chance to meet him. As much as I want to see the team win and guys get shots in the NFL, to see a guy who is successful in so many aspects of his life is inspiring. His mom did a fantastic job, to be sure, and I'd like to think that Mangino can use Stuckey as an example of the kind of player and man he wants to have in his program.

Darrell, have a great senior year, lead us to great things, and best of luck in whatever you choose to do in life.

Trace Stark 10 years, 3 months ago

Wonderful story about a tremendous young man. Rock Chalk #25!!!

Eliott Reeder 10 years, 3 months ago

Excellent story and great kid. I think he would be a role model and a 'man of character' even if he happened to consider himself agnostic. Just saying. And you spelled Wayne's name wrong.

AverageCitizen 10 years, 3 months ago

Great story! I know his aunt and he has strong family support all around, too. It's so nice to read positive stories about athletes rather than the ones in trouble. This represents the majority of the athletes anyway and they don't get as much print. It takes a tremendous effort to train everyday in addition to school...not to mention all the other activities Darrell is involved in. Good luck to the the Jayhawks this football season. RCJH

Mark Anderson 10 years, 3 months ago

What this story indicates is a coaching staff at KU that recruits not only good athletes, but good people. There is much to be said for good character, and Coach Mangino won't put up with a lot of BS, even if the kid is a superstar! The coaching staff should be congratulated in recruiting kids who represent the University of Kansas in a positive way, both on and off the field! Darrell Stuckey is a prime example!

bg97 10 years, 3 months ago

Type of player who deserves every accolade he receives, he's earned it. I predict several game changing plays this year, as he's the star on that side of the ball. Best of luck this year and beyond Mr. Stuckey.

gardenjay 10 years, 3 months ago

Interesting choice, JayViking.

My favorite is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kX2DlSp6-d0

I always like to think that because Darrell did not give up, the rest of the team was not going to give up. What people tend to forget is the part where KU then held LTU for four plays right there at the endzone, and denied them a field goal. The whole thing was inspirational.

One has to stretch way back in history to find a comparison - Napoleon was inspirational like this, even after his exile on Elba, but I can't see Darrell crowning himself emperor. I imagine Joan of Ark inspired like this as well, and history currently pegs her as fairly selfless, but this analogy has a gender problem. I have to get back to work, someone help out on the historical analogies here please...

mdfraz 10 years, 3 months ago

You are right about your summary of the play/series, gardenjay, but if I remember right (I haven't watched your clip) Stuckey not only tracked down Livas on the long run and saved the TD, but on either the very next play or the second play after the long run, he busted through the line on an outside running play and dropped the runner for a loss. A lot of guys would have been tired and may have even come out after chasing a very fast player all across the field like that, but Stuckey not only stayed in, he made a big play immediately after. The crowd, which had thinned in a misty, fairly boring game, gave probably the loudest ovation of the night for Stuckey's effort and the subsequent stand and missed field goal. It was great to know that a lot of people still appreciate that kind of hard work on the football field.

KGphoto 10 years, 3 months ago

Nick,

That's the best photo of the series.

Methinks a 2x4 foot, framed print will adorn Michelle's wall.

ClintK 10 years, 3 months ago

GREAT story! Thanks for giving kids a real role model! The world needs more guys to be like Darrell Stuckey!

Darrell Stuckey is a fantastic college football player, and no one should be surprised to hear his name called on Sundays next year. The man makes plays on the field. (On the field performance wins games and sells tickets. Otherwise, on the field performance is over-emphasized in our culture.) The things Stuckey does on the field make him a great player. The things he is doing off the field show him to be a great man.

Thanks Jesse and Darrell for giving Jayhawk fans plenty to be proud of and plenty to cheer for this football season!

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