Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk: Darrell Stuckey
Less than a week before the 2010 NFL Draft and just months after he completed a memorable career during one of the most successful eras in the history of Kansas football, Darrell Stuckey found himself on the top of the Oread Hotel proposing to his girlfriend, Lacie Reed.
With Stuckey spending his days at the Anderson Football Complex and Reed, an education major, spending most of her days at Joseph R. Pearson Hall just West of Memorial Stadium, the all-encompassing view of campus from the Oread provided a perfect capsule of their time at KU. The timing was also important for Stuckey, who wanted to let Reed know that football wasn’t the number one priority in his life.
“I wanted her to know that she was more important to me than the draft was and I wasn’t going to put this off because I wanted to focus on something else,” Stuckey said. “I think it was an appropriate decision. At the same time, we knew that going into the draft that this was our future, not just my future.”
Reed added, “When he said, ‘I want this draft to be about our journey and not just mine,’ I thought that was really special. It was the most exciting thing ever and it made it even more special that he wanted to include me in his journey and not have it be just about himself.”
The intricate timing of his marriage proposal was just another example of Stuckey proving that he was more than just a football player. Stuckey, a Kansas City, Kan., native, was involved with basketball, baseball, wrestling and track in addition to football growing up and even admits that America’s pastime was the first sport to grab his heart. However, due to the expense of baseball and the shortage of full-ride baseball scholarships at the time, Stuckey decided to stick with the sport that would get him all the way through college – football. That decision came the summer before his senior year of high school when former Kansas head coach Mark Mangino gave him his first offer at a full scholarship.
According to Stuckey the choice to attend KU was a no-brainer; he had been a Kansas fan since middle school, when one of his teachers brought a select group of students to “Late Night with Roy Williams” as a reward for academic excellence.
“I committed in the summer before my senior year, before anyone else had the chance to offer,” Stuckey said. “I told my coach that I didn’t want to talk to anymore coaches. I wanted to go to Kansas.”
Stuckey didn’t just appreciate KU for its superiority in athletics, he saw it as a well-rounded university that stood for something greater.
“I was going to a university that believed in excellence,” Stuckey said. “One that stood for more than just mediocrity. There was a man sitting in front of me who was willing to do whatever it took to get the football program in the same direction and it proved itself. I wanted to go there and make my own path and footprints, rather than going somewhere and trying to follow someone else’s successes. So going there and starting my own traditions football-wise at the University of Kansas was a great opportunity for me.”
After arriving as a freshman in 2005, Stuckey was redshirted and started to see the beginning of a turnaround. The team went 7-5 and defeated Houston, 42-13, in the Fort Worth Bowl.
“(The bowl win) reassured my decision to come here and play,” Stuckey said. “I knew in my heart that Kansas was on an incline and getting better each year since Coach had been there. When we won that first bowl game, I knew what it felt like and I knew what it took to get there.”
After losing several close games in 2006 and not making a bowl game, the team entered the offseason determined to get back to postseason play. Stuckey credits the strength and conditioning staff for forming a competitive atmosphere and a good group of coaches that put them in position to be successful. The following season, the Jayhawks would finish 12-1 and climb as high as No. 2 in the polls after not receiving a ranking in the preseason, finish in a tie for first in the Big 12 North and win the Fed Ex Orange Bowl over Virginia Tech, 24-21. Stuckey was named All-Big 12 Honorable Mention after recording 72 tackles, two interceptions and recovering two fumbles.
“From there we knew the sky was the limit,” Stuckey said. “All we had to do was have the right mindset, buy in and sacrifice our selfish desires to be number one on the team or a starter, to falling into our roles and excelling. We were a blue collar team that was always the underdog, that was always underrated and sometimes under appreciated. We were willing to sweat and bleed and do whatever it took to prove to everyone around us that we were here to stay.”
The team followed up its Orange Bowl victory with an 8-5 record in 2008 and a victory in the Insight Bowl over Minnesota, 42-21. Stuckey received the distinction of All-Big 12 First Team after recording 98 tackles, the most by a Kansas defensive back since 2003, and leading the team with five interceptions.
Regardless of all his accolades and success on the field, it is his work off the field during his time at KU that he wants to be remembered for. Stuckey was active on campus and in the community. He was a Student Senator for the college of liberal arts and sciences, a SAAC Executive Board member, the president of Rock Chalk Responsible Choices, a member of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee of Athletics, the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity treasurer and recruiting chair, a part of Student-Athlete Environment Committee, a founding member of the FCA huddle at KU and attended a NCAA leadership conference on behalf of the athletic department as a sophomore. As a senior, Stuckey was named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, which recognizes 11 Football Bowl Subdivision student-athletes nationally for outstanding efforts in volunteerism and community service. This is the legacy that Stuckey left at Kansas.
“(Getting involved) allowed me to work with people from different parts of the campus, who had different perspectives,” Stuckey said. “I think that’s how I want to be remembered at the University of Kansas, is by the people I impacted in my different involvements with different student groups. I was beyond football; it was more about life and improving the environment around me.”
Stuckey himself knew he was more than a football player, but it took a while for him to convince Lacie Reed. Stuckey first met Reed when she was working for Student-Athlete Support Services at the front desk checking in student-athletes for tutoring. Stuckey would say “hi” to her every day, but it wasn’t until the following summer that he realized something bigger could be a possibility between the two.
In the early summer of 2008, Reed was moving out of her apartment and Stuckey sent her a Facebook message to see if she wanted to hang out and offered his help with the move. Reed declined the help, but agreed to hang out. The two talked for over an hour and Stuckey felt a connection.
The two began texting back and forth and met a couple times as Lacie began working as a manager for the men’s basketball team, of which her younger brother Tyrel was a member, but nothing more than friendship really came of it and they eventually stopped talking all together.
“It was a little worrisome that he was an athlete,” Reed said. “I wasn’t really looking for a relationship and I also knew at the time that I didn’t really want to date an athlete.”
Stuckey saw the situation differently. “I guess she said I was making it too obvious that I liked her, so she stopped responding to my text messages. So I got the hint and I stopped texting her.”
With her brother being a student-athlete and the years she had spent around other student-athletes as a manager and checking them in for tutoring, Reed had formed a stereotype of the football star, but Stuckey was determined to change her perspective. He remembered that Reed was having surgery on her knee that fall, so he texted her well wishes the next day.
“It kind of took her aback and she was a bit surprised that I remembered,” Stuckey said. “It kind of made her realize that I was more interested in her as a person. She didn’t just look at me as an athlete after that I guess.”
The two began spending time together again soon after and started dating later in the fall of 2008, which led to their engagement in the spring of 2010.
Later that week, Stuckey was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. The couple moved West for Stuckey to join his new team. In April 2011, they returned to the Sunflower State where they were united in marriage in front of their family and friends.
On the field, Stuckey found his niche working with special teams. After leading the Chargers in special teams stops in 2011, he was named the special teams captain for the 2012 season. Last fall, Stuckey thrived in his roll, leading the team in special teams stops for the second consecutive season. Stuckey also has seen limited time working with the defense and hopes to play a bigger role this season.
As his professional career has taken off, his personal life has followed suit. The Stuckey’s are enjoying married life and the couple welcomed son Jayton James Stuckey to the family on February 13, 2013.
“I think that marriage is one of the most beautiful things in life, especially when it is shared by two people that believe in each other, believe in what marriage stands for and believe in what they are building together,” Stuckey said. “I think the most important part is to know that as one of you succeeds, you both succeed and that both of you are vital to each other’s success and well-being. I can’t imagine my life without my wife right now and that’s the way she probably feels, too.”
Darrell and Lacie continue to give back to the school that provided them so much as they are both actively involved with K Club to this day.
“It is really fun to teach (Jayton) the ways and have him grow up loving the Jayhawks,” the now Lacie Stuckey said. “That’s been really special for us, because we have such a love for KU and we want nothing but the best for them, but now it’s cool to have a little person that you are teaching those types of things to and instilling the values of the KU family and being a Jayhawk for life.”
Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk.
*Make sure to catch Darrell Stuckey and the Chargers on ESPN Thursday night at 7 p.m. (CT) as they take on the Chicago Bears in preseason NFL action. Joining Stuckey on the field will be former KU defensive back Greg Brown (2009-12) for the Chargers and former defensive end Josh Williams (2012) for the Bears.