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Darrell Stuckey, a former NFL Pro-Bowler and KU star, takes on role as mentor

He’s happy to talk about football, he insists, but as Darrell Stuckey shuffles around people, across football fields and into hallways at Bishop Ward High School on Saturday morning, making sure his seventh annual free football camp is humming along, it’s clear he sees the importance of other things in life than football.

Stuckey, the former Kansas football standout who spent seven seasons in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers as a safety, can hardly hold still for a moment. One second, he’s telling a camper that there’s coconut water available around the corner. Another, Stuckey is shouting instructions across the field’s parking lot to ensure a billboard doesn’t fall over. “Don’t step on it,” he calls over.

Perhaps that can begin to capture Stuckey, a 2014 NFL Pro Bowler who now pours his full-time efforts into ministry.

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“I think developing yourself inside and out maximizes your ability to play the game at a high level,” Stuckey says, “because your confidence is intangible. You can’t break a person who truly knows who they are and what they’re capable of.”

That, Stuckey says, is part of why he puts the camp on every year. The other part: his own background. When Stuckey grew up in Kansas City, Kan., he didn’t have anything like this. Even when he began high school at Washington High, he had to pay for the camps he was able to attend.

Stuckey, though, wanted to make it easier for kids today in Kansas City, Kan., to attend a camp. So beginning in 2012, following his third year with the Chargers, Stuckey partnered with USA Football’s FUNdamentals to throw this camp — free of charge.

“It’s easy to be in the inner city and have an excuse of why you can’t get better or why people don’t come here,” Stuckey says. “In better areas, it’s easier because everything comes to you. The fields are nicer. People are more apt to have camps there.

“A lot of people have the mindset of, if this is free, it’s probably not going to be that good. But these coaches are all quality coaches. The positions they’re coaching, they actually played in college or in the NFL. These aren’t just people who volunteered to come out and have never played football before. These are actually players who played the position.”

To be sure, Stuckey cares about football. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t bother hosting a football camp. Rather, he thinks about football as a means to improve oneself as a person. A piece to the puzzle, in other words.

It’s part of the reason Stuckey, who starred at KU from 2006-2009 and was named to the 2008 All-Big 12 first team, is returning to the Jayhawks’ club this season as a team chaplain for the second season.

In that role, Stuckey says he mentors players and helps them navigate life as a student-athlete. He also provides assistance with time management. Many facets of leading a healthy life hinge on “mental stability,” Stuckey says, highlighting the changes college students often experience when they move out of their parents’ home.

Speaking of stability, KU hopes it’s found some in new head coach Les Miles, a one-time national championship winner who was hired in November. The Jayhawks’ last winning season came in 2008, Stuckey’s junior year.

To many, Miles’ presence represents a fresh start. A page being turned.

Stuckey thinks that can be true.

“Don’t get me wrong — I’m excited,” Stuckey says. “But at the same time, just like (Miles) would tell you, we’ve made a lot of strides, but we haven’t played a game yet…. The point is, regardless of his track record, people believe in him because he’s going to do his best. And people believe in him because they’ve seen his best and the result.

“They think the best the players can do is in the past. But that slate’s clean. The canvas is white. They’ve cleared their pallet and their taste buds are full and rich, and they’re ready to bite into what it truly means to be a Jayhawk and what it means to truly grow in this game of football, and play it at a high level, believing in themselves and not holding their breath to not make a mistake.”

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