When Phillip Strozier speaks, his words evoke a sense of direction, clarity and professionalism.
This comes naturally now for the Kansas University senior safety. Eye contact accompanies the conversation, which hints at a mentor figure as a big reason for the way Strozier looks at life on and off the football field.
Darrell Stuckey has left quite an impact on members of the football program.
“Most importantly, he taught us how to lead by example,” Strozier said of departed safety Stuckey, who was drafted by the San Diego Chargers and may start in his rookie season. “There’s nothing wrong with being a great player on the field and a great person off the field, character-wise. That’s what he taught us the most.”
Strozier is applying the wisdom left behind by Stuckey, a former All-Big 12 first-team selection and regular contributor in the community.
The direction: Strozier graduated with a degree in business marketing in May. He’d like to create advertising commercials.
The clarity: Strozier seems to be clear about his role as a senior leader in the secondary. Sure, it’s a new scheme, new safeties coach, new defensive coordinator, new head coach, new everything. But the Jayhawks, who ranked 96th out of 120 Div. I teams in pass defense last year, were in need of some kind of change.
The professionalism: Strozier often began his responses earlier this month at KU’s annual media day with “yes sir/no sir,” something not often heard in that type of setting. The way he articulated his sentences suggested it wasn’t just a gimmick.
These attributes can’t all be traced back to Stuckey. But the inspiring imprint he left on the program is obvious.
“There’s nothing wrong with being an outstanding citizen,” Strozier said. “We’re all here to be great football players. But we’re all here to be good students and good men, too.”
Strozier’s fellow safeties have been affected in a positive way by Stuckey as well.
• Red-shirt freshman Prinz Kande said Stuckey went out of his way to visit him after practice to break down film last season.
“When I came up, he was like a big brother to me,” Kande said. “He took me under his wing and showed me the basics.”
“Just being smart,” Kande said. “Knowing what to do before the offense even snaps the ball. He was gifted. He was a pretty good hitter, too. I tried to watch his technique.”
• Sophomore Lubbock Smith said he instantly bonded with Stuckey because they were both men of faith.
“I learned a lot of leadership skills from Stuckey,” Smith said. “On the field, we always talked to each other. He gave me insight on how to see the quarterback drop and certain assignments that I needed to see so I could get better.”
• Safeties coach Rombert Wimberly, in his first year at KU after coming to Lawrence from Buffalo with head coach Turner Gill, never coached Stuckey. But he met him several times. All it took was a little conversation.
“He’s a very mature young man,” Wimberly said of Stuckey. “A young man that, to have the success that he has, is very humble, wants to see others do well. That plays a part in my group because they saw that for four years ... We’re trying to reinforce that — a family atmosphere and helping each other out. I think his impact was tremendous.”
Smith (free safety) and Olaitan Oguntodu (strong safety) are listed as the starters on KU’s latest depth chart. Strozier is listed as Smith’s backup, while Kande is listed as Oguntodu’s backup. Freshman Keeston Terry recently switched to safety from wide receiver and also will compete for snaps.