🎙 The Jayhawker Podcast | Darrell Stuckey

Episode 33: Darrell Stuckey | August 27, 2020

Darrell Stuckey overcame a lot early in life along the road to an Orange Bowl championship and NFL Pro Bowl. His journey to the peak of college and pro football success was long and winding, filled with plenty of adversity.

An incredible mother, a strong faith and several key moments shaped Stuckey early on along his path to football glory. Then the college experience at Kansas — both on the field and off – molded Stuckey significantly into the man he is today.

This week on The Jayhawker podcast we take you inside the development of one of KU’s best defensive backs ever and tell the story of a football ambassador whose legacy of paying it forward ranks among the all-time greats as well.

Raised mostly by a single mother who worked multiple jobs to give her children the best life possible, Stuckey took on a part-time job after football practice to help make ends meet.

The job required him to leave practice early each day – something his coach at Kansas City’s Washington High School gladly let him do because he was such a hard worker and respected leader – and work until after 10 pm before driving home for a short night’s rest and then doing it all over again. One night, the fatigue of Stuckey’s near-18 hour days finally caught up with him.

“I was exhausted. I couldn’t get home till midnight, I’d go to bed and be up at six to be at school at seven,” recalled Stuckey. “I fell asleep behind the wheel. It was a detour on 435 and one of the lanes was missing. A shoulder was all that was there. I feel asleep and woke up going 86-87 miles-an-hour in this detour in between cones and a shoulder. I wouldn’t have woken up unless the cop pulled me over – that’s why I woke up, the sirens and the lights in the rearview were flashing in my eyes.”

A terrified but grateful Stuckey was given a ticket – one that would cost him his last two weeks of wages– but he knew that ticket had just saved his life. Expecting his mother to be upset about the money he lost, she instead embraced him and said, “I don’t care about money. It’s you (I care about). You’re not working anymore.”

Though, ultimately, Stuckey convinced his mom to let him get another part-time job, his near brush with death certainly gave him great perspective on a lot of things. His already strong faith and belief in God’s plan for his life soon grew even stronger when the Kansas Jayhawks offered him a scholarship.

Stuckey had attended a KU football camp during which he met Mark Mangino for the first time. He was initially nervous to meet the head coach because he knew he had to leave the KU camp early due to a previous commitment to attend an Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) leadership camp. Instead of being disappointed in Stuckey’s early departure, the KU Coach had a different reaction. One that put Stuckey at ease and made quite an impression on him as well.

Stuckey recalls what Mangino said to him that day.

“It’s okay. You have a commitment,” Mangino told Stuckey. “I hear it’s a leadership camp. You can’t have too much leadership. I spend more time with my players than I do with my own family – that’s the nature of the business and I’ll be damned if I’m going to bring in a knucklehead.”

Stuckey continued.

“He basically said, ‘Thank you for standing firm in what you believe in and for building yourself to be a leader.’ For me that was affirmation that he wasn’t upset at me for leaving early and was also affirmation that he believed in what I was doing, who I was and what I stood for.”

As much as that exchange initially reassured Stuckey, he would suffer a hamstring injury before leaving the camp that left him devastated, fearful of what kind of impression he made and actually had him wondering why God would deal him such a tough hand.

“I went to the FCA camp angry at God,” Stuckey remembered with a laugh. “I said, ‘Lord, I put you first and you let this happen?!’ No, God didn’t let that happen, I made that happen. My body, physically, wasn’t in a place to run a 40 (yard dash), let alone four times. And I probably was dehydrated and other things.”

Stuckey’s perspective continued to change that weekend at the FCA camp and he, ultimately, had a peace about the direction of his football future.

“I had an encounter with God there that set my heart in a place to where I was like, ‘You know what Lord, this isn’t of you. You didn’t make this happen. I’ll put you first, align myself with you and regardless of where I go (to college), I’m going to be a witness. But Lord, I’m not going to have anxiety about what I can do to make myself go to college. It’ll take care of itself and the right team will see me and where I need to be will come, in time.”

By the end of the weekend as Stuckey was leaving the camp his mother came to him with some news.

“My mother looked at me and said, ‘Coach (Dave) Doeren called. (Kansas) wants to offer you a full ride.’ And that’s why I knew. I had just prayed about it two days before that.”

Most Kansas fans know what would ensue from there. Stuckey went on to become a starter for some of the best teams in school history, he was an All-Big 12 performer, and eventually took his game to the NFL, where he would become a special teams captain and Pro Bowler for the San Diego Chargers.

But what from his time at Kansas was most influential in shaping him as a man and putting him on the path he is today of mentoring student-athletes? And why was it that he was convinced KU could run the table in 2007 before the year even began?

Find out those answers and more and possibly walk away a little inspired, on this week’s edition of “The Jayhawker.”