Darrell Stuckey was awake but in bed at 5 a.m. inside his Lawrence home.
Struggling to get out of bed, his wife, Lacie, nudged Stuckey and reminded him, “It’s camp day.” Stuckey lunged in excitement, woke up his three children and drove 50 minutes east to Bishop Ward High School, the site of his sixth annual football camp.
It was a joyous and spirited setting Saturday morning hours before the camp began. As the sun began to rise, Stuckey arrived at the football fields of Bishop Ward to set up cones in preparation for his camp, which lasted from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and was attended by about 250 local youths at no cost.
“It’s about the collective group of kids and the environment we’re able to cultivate with them being here,” said Stuckey, a former University of Kansas star now with the Los Angeles Chargers. “We want to teach them to compete at a high level without demoralizing their opponent. That ultimately brings out the best competitor.”
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A fourth-round selection by the Chargers in 2010, Stuckey embraces leadership and sacrifice. He was hands-on throughout the camp, barking out instructions, signing autographs and leading drills. During water breaks, he gave out life advice to kids and interacted with parents. As busy as Stuckey was, even he thought there was a harder worker on the field.
“My wife and I sat down for hours six years ago, and we go through the same process each year,” Stuckey said. “The reality is, if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it wholeheartedly. Even though it says my name on the back of the shirt … yeah, I might pay the bills, but it takes a lot of other hands to make this function.”
Lacie Stuckey had her hands full Saturday holding their 4-month-old daughter in a baby carrier. However, she made sure she was as engaged as her husband during the camp.
“We’re not here just to make this some free camp, but to make it a camp full of experience … as if these kids were paying $150, we want them to get the full treatment,” she said. “Darrell would always tell me he didn’t have this growing up. This is something some kids might remember for the rest of their lives, so why not make the most of it?”
Each camp participant received a T-shirt, a sports bag, a football, a sports bottle, two photos autographed by Stuckey and a free lunch. Among those helping volunteer were Stuckey’s family, friends and former coaches, including Darwin Franklin, his coach at Washington High School.
“He (Stuckey) might be big-time now, but this guy will never forget his roots,” said Franklin, who now coaches in Oklahoma City. “Darrell isn’t football, football is just what Darrell does. His humility is what has made him who he is today.”
Stuckey’s farewell message was to play the game with love and passion.
“Football is a game that’s known to be aggressive, but that doesn’t mean it has to be perfected in anger,” Stuckey said. “It’s hard to stay in control when you’re angry. If you can’t keep your head, there’s no way a kid will be successful playing. We need to introduce and teach the game in a positive way.”