The Drive of Darrell Stuckey Faith, Family and Football
He grew up in the inner city speaking slang with a stutter. At a young age, his parents divorced but his mother made church and education a priority for him and his younger sister. He was an energetic kid who loved sports and went on to earn a full-ride football scholarship. He was drafted into the NFL and this past season played in his first Pro Bowl followed a short 36-hours later by the birth of his second child. The journey for Darrell Stuckey, Safety and Special Teams player for the San Diego Chargers is one woven with passion and commitment. He strives to put God first in his life and this dedicated family man is involved in numerous community events.
Stuckey’s website, Living4One.com is a platform for fans to connect directly with him and provides the opportunity for him to share his heart with them. According to Stuckey, “Living4One means living for one purpose and your purpose affects and influences four different aspects of your life: you, your family, your community, and the world.” Risen recently sat down with this all-around talent to talk about his journey, his family and the path that led him along the way.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine in San Diego, California
Risen Magazine: What was life like growing up in the Stuckey household?
Darrell Stuckey: It was a pretty close-knit household. I grew up in the church and always went to church from a young age. My parents got divorced when I was about four years old. It was like a weird nightmare/dream because I had febrile seizures when I was younger – it’s when your body can’t regulate a temperature and if your body gets too hot it essentially just shuts down which causes a seizure. Basically your body is like a computer and it hit the reset button; and I had more than one. I had my last one when I was around five years old. I don’t know what the average person remembers before the age of 5, but for me most of it is blurry.
As a kid I was kind of angry internally because there were questions I couldn’t understand. There is no way as a kid to understand why your parents [relationship] couldn’t work. There were so many things I couldn’t fathom at the time and I just wanted an excuse to be angry. And it was easy to do what was expected instead of going against the grain and understanding the situation. But I had a love and a determination to play sports so our household was always active.
RM: Where did that love for sports come from?
DS: Both of my parents were athletes. They both loved sports, but neither played sports through college. My sister is eleven months younger than me and we were both very competitive. She was my best friend growing up. Predominantly our household was a single-parent home so everywhere I went; my sister had to go with me. And after awhile I stopped fighting it. I was a little guy, but definitely a protector of my sister. I was an aggressive guy that just loved life. As a kid I was angry at the fact that my parents couldn’t work out and life wasn’t perfect and I had a desire to be accepted and to be a part of something. Sports gave me that opportunity to be part of something that was greater than me, so playing sports was a release. It was an awesome time to have that connection with something that could’ve been perfect. You’re all striving together to achieve something that couldn’t be done by yourself – which is basically what a family is.
Going into sports became an eye-opener, kind of like a gateway to purpose. It was a bigger transcending cause and for me it was an easy transition to see [how] life is bigger than me too. I see the evidence of Jesus living out something that was beyond Himself, and then seeing God building a kingdom for us all to live for something beyond ourselves. I could be part of a team forever.
You’re all striving together to achieve something that couldn’t be done by yourself – which is
basically what a family is.
RM: You are obviously very talented when it comes to sports, how did Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) play a major role in your faith as a teen?
DS: In the spring, [in high school] I had committed to FCA camp and had even gotten a scholarship to go, so I didn’t have to pay, because I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. It was at William Jewell College in Kansas City, Missouri, and it overlapped with the Kansas University football camp in Lawrence, Kansas. So I asked, “How much does it cost to come to the KU camp for one day?” And the coach said, “One day?! What are you talking about?” I said, “Coach, I already committed to go to another camp.” And at first they thought it was another football camp. And I said, “It’s the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Leadership Camp.” And he said, “Leadership camp huh? Well I guess if we’ve got you for one day, we’ve got you for one day.” Luckily that first day is when they do all the testing anyway. And that day I ended up tweaking my hamstring and getting hurt. So I head to FCA camp mad and heavy-hearted. I had no idea God was breaking me down to build me up stronger.
I was vulnerable and I walk into the sanctuary [on campus] for the first time and I see 500kids-my peers praising God. It was cool to be one with God, it was cool to raise my hands and be authentic with God. But that wasn’t the moment that changed my mind. It was actually a Giant’s Ladder, a vertical obstacle course that me and another guy named John wanted to do and get in the [FCA] Hall-of-Fame. We were the same age and both very strong and competitive and big-hearted; we were the light of our group. It was two or three stories – it seemed huge because we were only sixteen years old. It looks like a tower that has balance beams, monkey bars, rings and a rope ladder. We wanted to be in the Hall-of-Fame, but to do that you either had to complete the course with a combination that had never been done before, or you had to do the course the fastest.
Since we were sixteen years old and there were military guys that had completed the course, we pretty much knew we weren’t going to beat anybody’s time, so we decided to do a combination that had never been done before. We thought up some ridiculous faith-bound, God-catch-me, trust-a-stranger type of combination. We decided to blindfold ourselves and bind ourselves together with a five foot slack bungee cord, and the people holding our bungee cord on the ground were our peers. [Basically] other random teenage kids—I’m not even sure if I asked what their names were, it’s FCA camp, and you were supposed to have faith in everyone I guess. [Laughter]
The funny thing about that moment is as soon as I put my blindfold on, as soon as I reached for the first obstacle, I heard God’s voice. It was this voice that I had heard before, but not clearly. The first thing my conscious told me was, “Now that I have your attention…” I was thinking, “Hmmm… what are you thinking about right now? Clear your head so you can hear them tell you where to put your foot, where to grab, where to climb, where to balance and where to jump.” And the only thing I could think about was [God saying], “How dare you trust a complete stranger with your life when I’ve been here the whole time.”
The next thing you know, all I could think was God saying, “You have more faith in this complete stranger than you have in Me. You let someone else order your steps and you can’t trust Me to light your path.” I’m a very hyper, social person and I’m always distracted by whatever is going on around me, so God had to get me in a position where He could really talk to me—I put my own self there with my own ego and competitive nature. Now I’m blindfolded and all I can think about is faith and reaching and listening. The closer I get to the top, the lighter the load.
Then I started thinking about all I’ve done in my life and accomplished and I thought about how I play a sport that, in any given play, it could be my last. In football, you put your faith in the person trying to tackle you or trying to block you, [believing] that they will play the game the right way and not try to take a cheap shot. You can hurt anybody at any time and use your body as a weapon if you don’t play the right way. Sometimes I play with, or against, a complete stranger which means I’m letting a complete stranger hold my life in their hands. And God said, “How foolish of you to think you live without any faith.” You may just be directing it the wrong way.
When I got to the top of the tower I was overwhelmed with emotions surrounding what was going through my mind on the way up there. So to make it to the top of the Giant’s Ladder was the exclamation point! It was me breaking out of my shell and throwing away the questions that I had before. It was that day that turned my life around. I knew the closer I got to God the less everything else mattered. Regardless of where I am, I’m going to always put God first and be a witness for Him and make sure the environment I’m in is lit by the light of God.
That [camp experience] is where I rededicated my life fully and I say that is when I took control of my relationship with God and gave up control at the same time. You have to take control first and decide, “I’m going to do this.” And then give it up and be submissive. That all happened on a Thursday, and Friday when my mom picked me up from camp I got in the car and she looked at me and said, “KU wants to offer you a full ride scholarship.” This was in June, before my senior year even started.
RM: You grew up in Kansas City and then attended University of Kansas. What was it like going to college so close to home?
DS: It was a dream-come-true. I wanted to be in the Big 12 and I wanted to be close to home. My mother always made it to my games. I was never on the team that was favored; I was always the underdog. It was always a team I was helping to build. Being part of Kansas, they were on the uprise.
RM: Then you get drafted to the Chargers in 2010 and move to San Diego. There are worse cities you could have to live in.
DS: It wasn’t even on my radar. I literally did not watch that much NFL because I was either at church, or with friends, or playing sports – I was never in the house.
RM: Interesting, so did you ever have the dream to play in the NFL or did that just kind of evolve?
DS: My mom was always big on education. Our whole household always had above a 3.5 grade point average. It was a standard and I couldn’t play sports, even from a young age, unless I had good grades; sports were a reward. For me, I knew I always wanted to go to college so I tried to put myself into a position to go to college no matter what. Football gave that to me. I loved playing football and I wanted to be the best player I could be. I wanted to be the best player in the Big 12 and I wanted to be the best player in all of college football. My goal was to play in the NFL. I saw a quilt that I think I made in the fifth grade, where we had to draw a picture of what we wanted to do when we grew up and so my picture was of me playing football.
I wanted to be in the NFL, but I was so scared to fail. In my mind my motto was that failure was not an option. I wanted to be successful in life. Period. And I realized that success is not accolades, but rather finding a purpose and fulfilling it. So for me to be successful I wanted to be a great husband and a great father. I wanted to be the best man I could be.
I told myself to prepare to live without the NFL, but on the field I still needed to play my heart out and do whatever was needed, and if I did that then I believed football will take care of itself, if that was my purpose. I couldn’t draft myself. I always had goals, but [needed to] leave room for God’s will to be done. I realize the times I try to get arrogant and control things, are really the times that things don’t work out. So I started living in a way that I was proving my leadership off the field in many ways varying from being elected Student Senator my junior and senior years at University of Kansas for the college of the liberal arts and sciences, to one of three students on the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee, to Treasurer of my fraternity. I just wanted to prepare myself to be successful regardless of sports.
I majored in Communication Studies because I was stuttering a lot and I wanted to be able to articulate myself in a way to be relatable and influential. I also didn’t really speak proper English being from an inner city [kid]. Then I got drafted. It is easier for you to drop everything and go when the blessing comes rather than putting all your eggs in one basket and leaving no room for God’s will to be done. So I prepared to live without football, and prepared to be successful so God had options on where he wanted to send me. This way if God wanted me to play football it would be obvious that it was His will. I didn’t want to misuse my environment and just take without adding anything to the table. I wanted to make KU better than when I came.
I realized that success is not accolades, but rather finding a purpose and fulfilling it.
RM: How did you feel when you did get drafted to play in the NFL?
DS: When I was sitting there watching the draft, they [the teams] call a little bit before they announce the draft picks on television, so when it comes on you have already been on the phone with the team for a couple minutes and of course people kept calling me throughout the day asking, “You get drafted yet?” And I would say, “Don’t call me. I’ll text you when it happens.”
So the Chargers call and I’m on the phone and my roommate gets so excited because I’m talking to them. I think the first person that I talked to was John Spanos [President, Football Opperations]. I think he was at the draft board at that time, then [I spoke with] Dean Spanos, A.G. Spanos, Ron Rivera and Steve Wilks because they were all in the same room – they call it the War Room. They pass the phone down the line and in the middle of this when Wilks takes the phone, the draft announcement goes across the television screen and my roommate literally jumps and grabs my wrist and shouts, “Woohoooooooo!” And as my phone flips across the room, I’m thinking “Nooooo!” And trying not to hit my roommate, because he didn’t play football and he was just really excited. I push him out the way and dive for my phone and say, “I’m on the phone with them.” And he was like, “My bad.” [Laughter]
It was very obvious getting to San Diego at first that I was different, because I didn’t play the game out of anger and I didn’t have an entitlement demeanor. I wasn’t passive at all, but I’m very respectful and courteous to my teammates. Most people play the game for fame, or glory, or money, but eventually when you get your dreams, the motivation can run away real fast. I know one thing; when I’m playing on the field it is with a purpose and it is beyond myself. There will never be a question if I am there for the right reasons or if I am happy with my circumstances because it’s not about me.
RM: How would you describe your mentality on the field?
DS: I am always a firm believer that God intended us to play with the mentality of not losing. It’s the same way Apostle Paul talks about it in the Bible that nobody runs a race just for the heck of it; they always run in a way to get the prize. That is the way I play. But it doesn’t take aggression; it takes love for the person next to you and the people opposing us trying to take what is ours. It’s a game and there is no reason you have to play the way you live your life. There have been plenty of times people say, “You are a hard hitter. You don’t seem like you would hit me. I don’t feel intimidated by you at all right now. But when you get on the field I question whether you are the same guy.” They think this because I am a very happy-go-lucky person.
RM: Congratulations on your first trip to the Pro Bowl this past January. It’s interesting to note that only a handful of players at each position are recognized, but only two players in the entire league make the annual all-star game for special teams, so it’s a huge honor. Tell me about your experience.
DS: Yes! Thank God it was in Arizona, because we [wife] were pregnant at the time. And yes, only two players from Special Teams in the NFL go. I was actually an alternate because it was supposed to be Matthew Slater from the Patriots and obviously New England made it into the Super Bowl so he couldn’t play in the Pro Bowl. Slater has been to the Pro Bowl multiple times and once you get in it is hard to take that spot away from somebody because the Special Teams is not really an ESPN highlight, and it’s not a Fantasy Football draft-able position. So it’s not something fans really pay attention to, so to vote for it [for Pro Bowl] most people just vote for the guy on their favorite team.
RM: Nearly 36 hours after returning from the Pro Bowl, your wife, Lacie, gave birth to your second child. Tell me about how you met your wife and the strong marriage you have built.
DS: It is amazing how much one person can influence or catapult an individual to be the man he needs to be or even to bring an enlightened movement in someone to be more than what he thought was enough. To have someone that is willing to formulate a team, because a family is a team, a couple has to work together to make everything in the house functional. Your whole house is your locker room and you obviously have a head coach and an assistant coach, in some cases you have two General Managers because it is definitely a partnership.
For me, when I met Lacie, neither one of us were looking for a relationship; both of us were outside of our comfort zones. I had never dated anybody outside of my race and she was from a small town and had never dated outside of her race either. I’m from the inner city and she’s from a town with literally two stoplights. She had both her parents, they were both educators, and I was usually just with one of my parents. She was saving herself for marriage and I was, I use the word, “tainted” by life. I didn’t have a strong firm hand or masculine figure telling me how to treat a woman. I knew how to respect a woman because I had a little sister and a single-parent mother.
But to know the influence sexual purity has, wasn’t truly affirmed to me, or firmly embedded in me and understood. I had re-dedicated myself [to the Lord] about six months before we met. We knew each other before then, but we hadn’t really tried to have a conversation and she was not into athletes. Her brother played basketball for University of Kansas and she worked in the athletic department as support staff. Lacie was a beautiful girl, but she wasn’t my type at the time, and I really wasn’t hers either.
Facebook chat had just come out and I was online and she was online so I messaged her something like, “Hey, you said you wouldn’t mind hanging out sometime. But it has to be during the day. We can meet at the park or a pizza place. Not a date, just to hang out.” She said, “Sure. I’m moving out of my house.” I said, “You need someone to help you move?” She said, “No but you can come over and help me clean.” Little did I know that she had no intention of having me help her clean. I get over to her house and it’s already totally clean. We had a great conversation for a couple of hours and we didn’t talk about sports or football. We continued to be friends for six or seven months and then we started dating.
Going into our marriage we wanted to have a clean line of what we wanted and we studied together with a premarital book. The week before the draft, I called Lacie’s dad on a Sunday night and I said, “Mr. Reed I really want to ask your daughter’s hand in marriage…” The next day I decided to have a special dinner. My heart was pounding and I had already gotten a ring. I distracted Lacie with the draft and said, “The draft is coming up and I really want to start the week off celebrating and I know we both are free on Monday. I want to have a special dinner. I don’t know if we’ll have time to ourselves on the weekend with family. It will be a stressful weekend and I just want to make sure you know that I want you to celebrate this with me, because I have no idea what my future will hold.” And I just kept saying me, me, me, me.
The Oread Hotel was just built right off the stadium near KU’s campus and they had just finished the terrace part of it. I found a way to talk to the manager and asked if there was any way I could rent it for the evening. It wasn’t open to the public yet, but they were going to open it the following weekend. Either way, a Monday night would be slow so I got a great price to have the terrace, a four-course meal and a waiter. There was one table on the terrace and it overlooked the stadium and the education building where Lacie spent most of her college career.
So we go into the hotel and we are all dressed up and she’s walking toward the restaurant, because she’s been there before, and I stop at the elevators, and there is a sign that says, “Terrace Closed for Private Event.” She says, “What are you doing?” And I said, “We have to go up the elevator.” Then we go up to the fifth floor and there is this candlelit dinner in the middle of the terrace. She said, “Are you serious?!” And I said, “Yes, it’s only the biggest week of MY life.” [Laughter] Again emphasizing me, me, me.
We go through dinner and the ring is in my pocket and the whole time I kept emergency dialing the police. Because back then you didn’t have to dial a number, there was an actual emergency button. If you swipe the wrong way it makes the call so I must’ve accidentally called 911 like five to six times. I throw her off and make a joke during dinner and say, “Babe I’m going to be honest with you, if I could afford it and I wasn’t broke right now, this would be a perfect night to propose. We both know the situation so we’ll wait until next year, maybe after my first season in the NFL.”
We have dinner and finish the meal and before dessert I say, “Now that the sun is going down let’s look at the view.” All the while, my roommate is hiding in the chef’s kitchen by the window so we could record it. We get up and go look [at the sunset] and I go into my proposal and part of it I say, “you mean the world to me and this week is not just about me, and I don’t want it to be, this is about our future together.” Then I step back and go down on one knee and propose. She was caught off guard so the few seconds felt like a long time as she looked at me and then said, “Yes, yes, yes!” Then my roommate walked out from the chef’s kitchen. It was pretty fun and crazy.
RM: That was a big week for you… engaged and drafted to the NFL!
DS: Yes and I think it set the tone for our marriage because no matter what I do in life, I want her to know she will always come first. God clearly tells us whatever we do unto our wives, we do unto Him. As a man, He gave Eve to Adam. And original man, Adam, failed to protect Eve and to love her because he was with her and witnessed her being lured and tempted by the devil. So as a man, it is my duty to make sure she is fully supported and fully in a position to spiritually blossom. She is above and beyond anything I could imagine. When you get married, your spouse should be someone who uplifts and makes your life easier, not more complicated. It’s all about seeking truth; not seeking pride. Most people get caught up in their marriage because they can’t release the pride and Lacie has been so selfless. I think it is amazing the woman that she is, and it makes it easy for me to be the man I am.