The NFL finally has caught up with what fans of Kansas football have known for years — Darrell Stuckey is one hell of a guy.
Stuckey, the sixth-year NFL pro and 2010 KU graduate who starred in KU's secondary and helped the Jayhawks win the 2008 Orange Bowl, recently was named the San Diego Chargers' representative for this year's Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.
Each year, one player from all 32 NFL teams is nominated and this year the Chargers made Stuckey their selection.
Recognition and praise for his efforts beyond football certainly is nothing new for Stuckey. Since high school, the Kansas City, Kansas, native has done his part to give back to his community with particular interest paid to helping children and religion.
In 2010, Stuckey was named the Big 12 Sportsman of the Year for the 2009-10 seasons.
In addition to participating in numerous community outreach programs like visits to children's hospitals and free football clinics, Stuckey also started an organization known as "Living4One," an organization that aims to "help people discover that they were created to influence the world in a positive way" through living for Jesus."
Being nominated for an award as prestigious as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award, however, takes things to a new level even for Stuckey.
Established in 1970 and attached to the late Chicago Bears running back's name since 1999, The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award is given annually by the NFL to honor a player's volunteer and charity work as well as his excellence on the field.
Each of the 32 team nominees receives a $5,000 donation to their charity of choice. The two runner-ups will receive an additional $6,000 donation, and the winner will receive an additional $50,000 donation. Donations will be courtesy of the NFL Foundation and Nationwide.
"Serving their communities and philanthropic causes is a strong and long-standing tradition of NFL players," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a release. "These outstanding young men embrace and represent that important commitment of giving back to our communities. We salute and thank our players for their leadership."
Stuckey has chosen the organization "Teammates for Kids," founded by country star Garth Brooks, as his charity.
"The organization doesn't limit itself to helping one specific charity but branching out to help as many as possible," Stuckey said in a Chargers promotional video. "I've been involved with that cause, off and on, for the last three or four years and it's been an awesome opportunity."
Fans interested in helping Stuckey reach the finals can simply use the hashtag #StuckeyWPMOYChallenge on social media sites.
Finalists will be announced in January and the winner will be announced during the fifth Annual NFL Honors awards show, a two-hour primetime special airing nationally on Feb. 6, the night before Super Bowl 50 on CBS.
When the best of the best in the NFL hit the field for Sunday's Pro Bowl in Arizona, the rosters will include three former Jayhawks for the first time in more than 50 years.
Chris Harris (2007-10), Darrell Stuckey (2006-09) and Aqib Talib (2005-07), who shared the same KU secondary during the 12-1, 2007 season and 2008 Orange Bowl victory, will be the first trio of Jayhawks to play in the Pro Bowl since Galen Fiss (1950-52), Mike McCormack (1948-50) and Curtis McClinton (1959-61) represented their pro teams in the 1963 Pro Bowl.
It will mark the first appearance in the postseason all-star showcase for all three players. Talib was selected to the AFC Pro Bowl squad last season but did not play because of injury and Harris and Stuckey were named to the team for the first time in their careers.
Harris and Talib, both starting cornerbacks for the Denver Broncos, were two of the top defensive backs in the league during the 2014 season. Talib led the Broncos with four interceptions and finished fourth on the team with 64 tackles. He also added a sack. Harris, who was ranked as the NFL's top cornerback by Pro Football Focus — which took into account overall performance including percentage of receptions and yards given up — was right behind him with three interceptions, 53 tackles and a sack.
Stuckey, a back-up safety in his fifth season with the San Diego Chargers, again was a star on special teams, which earned him the trip to the Pro Bowl. He led the Chargers with 15 special teams tackles and made 27 more tackles in 155 defensive snaps.
Stuckey's addition to the Pro Bowl roster was made official earlier this week, as he finished as an alternate in the voting but took the place of New England's Matthew Slater, who is preparing for the Super Bowl.
This trio is largely responsible for the more favorable light that KU football has enjoyed in pro football. Not only have all three performed well enough to be respected for their stats and play on the field, but each has been part of some of the top teams in football during the past few seasons.
This weekend will mark just the second time in history that three former Jayhawks will play in the Pro Bowl together. KU has enjoyed seven different seasons with two former Jayhawks playing in the Pro Bowl at the same time and the program has had a representative in the game 29 different times, with the first coming in 1939, when Pete Mehringer, a former KU offensive lineman and 1932 Olympic wrestling gold medalist, represented the Los Angeles Bulldogs and the most recent until this season being former San Francisco 49ers stud Dana Stubblefield in 1998.
John Hadl and Mike McCormack are the Jayhawks who made the most Pro Bowl appearances, with six apiece, and KU packed its biggest punch in 1966 and 1970, when both Hadl and Gale Sayers played in the Pro Bowl.
Here's a quick look at KU's all-time Pro Bowl representatives:
• Frank Bausch — Chicago — 1940
• Larry Brown — Pittsburgh — 1983
• Nolan Cromwell — Los Angeles — 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984
• Galen Fiss — Cleveland — 1963, 1964
• John Hadl — San Diego & Los Angeles — 1965, 1966, 1969, 1970, 1973, 1974
• Chris Harris — Denver — 2014
• LeRoy Irvin — Los Angeles — 1986, 1987
• Ron Jessie — Los Angeles — 1977
• Curtis McClinton — Dallas Texans & Kansas City — 1963, 1967, 1968
• Mike McCormack — New York & Cleveland — 1952, 1957, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963
• Peter Mehringer — Los Angeles Bulldogs — 1939
• John Riggins — New York Jets — 1976
• Gale Sayers — Chicago — 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970
• Dana Stubblefield — San Francisco — 1995, 1996, 1998
• Darrell Stuckey — San Diego — 2014
• Aqib Talib — New England & Denver — 2013, 2014
• Delvin Williams — San Francisco & Miami — 1977, 1979
• John Zook — Atlanta — 1974
When the San Diego Chargers visit the Denver Broncos at 3:40 p.m. Sunday, the game will pit three former Kansas University football players vying for a spot in the AFC championship game.
The meeting between San Diego's Darrell Stuckey (25 above) and Denver's Chris Harris (16 above) and Steven Johnson represents arguably the biggest NFL game in quite some time that features former Jayhawks on both sides.
And the reunion is made even cooler by the fact that the trio of KU alums played on the same Jayhawk teams for two seasons and even lived together for a short time during their college careers.
Although Sunday's meeting brings the three former teammates together at the same key point in time, their paths to get there were significantly different.
Stuckey was the first of the three to reach the NFL, drafted by San Diego in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
During his first four seasons in the league, the Kansas City, Kan., native has made a name for himself as a special teams standout. His 12 special teams tackles in 2012 were tops on the team and his total of nearly 40 special teams tackles during the past three seasons rank in the Top 10 in the NFL despite Stuckey having played in fewer games than most players on the list above him.
Of late, Stuckey has begun to make a greater impact on defense, as well, finishing last week's playoff victory over Cincinnati with a career-high five tackles and two passes defended. His 26 tackles this season came through both defense and special teams, where he has garnered mention for a spot in the pro bowl during the past couple of seasons.
"Stuck might be the best I've seen in my 11 years," San Diego punter Mike Scifres said in a recent interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Some of the things he can do, the way he can change games, it's almost second to none right now."
Added Chargers place kicker Nick Novak: "He's virtually unstoppable because his technique is that good. He's such a student of the game. He just has, it seems, a counter move for every move they're bringing at him. Of course, he's human, but sometimes you think he's made for special teams."
Harris followed Stuckey into the league in 2011 but went the route of joining the Broncos as an undrafted free agent following the NFL lockout. Like Stuckey, the Bixby, Okla., native first made his mark on special teams, but when the Broncos' secondary endured key injuries, Harris was tossed into the lineup on defense and quickly became one of the team's top utility men, thanks largely to the many roles he played while at Kansas.
He has been referred to by some as the NFL's best coverage guy on slot receivers and his intelligence, physicality and tackling ability have made him one of the most valuable defensive players on the AFC's top seeded team that finished 13-3 during back-to-back seasons.
Harris' contributions to the Mile High City have reached far beyond the field. He's one of the team's most active members in the community and, recently, was given the Darrent Williams Good Guy award by the Denver media.
"He’s a stand-up guy even when times aren’t going real well," Denver coach John Fox said of Harris. "He’s, I think, mature beyond his years. I think he’s done a tremendous job just where he came from and what he’s accomplished in a short time here with the Broncos. It doesn’t surprise me.”
Johnson, who, like Stuckey, was invited to the NFL combine, went undrafted but quickly agreed to a free-agent deal with Denver following the completion of the 2012 draft.
The former Jayhawk, who led Kansas in tackles during his junior and senior seasons, said Harris' trailblazing paved the way for him to land in Denver.
“It actually meant a lot,” Johnson told the Journal-World at the time. “He was the one who called me and told me they were trying to draft me. He called me and told me all about Denver and told me they were a team on the rise, and I wanted to go to a team that could contend and win Super Bowls and stuff like that.”
Johnson spent his early days at Kansas as a walk-on desperate for an opportunity. He spent a chunk of time living on teammates couches and had to overcome a couple of major injuries prior to college that slowed his development. Despite all the adversity, Johnson stuck it out and wound up becoming one of the top tacklers in the Big 12 before leaving college.
That relentless style and attitude seems to be serving him well in the NFL, too.
"He's the guy that if anything happens, he's so into the game he's like, 'Now, Coach? I'm ready,' " Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio told the Denver Post.
Sunday is not the first NFL meeting between these three former Jayhawks. The Broncos and Chargers played twice during the regular season in 2012 and twice this season, as well. Denver won three of the four meetings, but San Diego emerged victorious during the most recent match-up, which has added significant intrigue to the showdown between the AFC's top-seeded and bottom-seeded teams this weekend.
Because of each team's Jayhawk ties, that showdown figures to be even more interesting for Kansas football fans.
As an appetizer, former KU All-American Aqib Talib and the New England Patriots will face the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night in the weekend's other AFC playoff game. If Talib and the Patriots prevail, they'll play the winner of the San Diego-Denver game on Jan. 19 for the right to go to the Super Bowl, and the book of biggest pro football games between former Jayhawks will include another chapter.