Grandfather’s legacy drives Texan Derek Stingley Jr.

Derek Stingley Jr.’s grandfather’s legacy never leaves, as his family’s backstory will always remind the gifted Houston Texans rookie cornerback of the violence of football, a shared love of football and the power of prayer for a family steeped in tradition.

Four decades ago, Darryl Stingley was playing wide receiver for the New England Patriots when a fateful encounter with Jack Tatum, one of the league’s hardest-hitting safety guards, rendered him a paraplegic during one of the most notorious games in NFL history.

It was August 12, 1978, and the Patriots were playing a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders. Stingley, who had agreed and was yet to sign a contract to become one of the league’s highest-paid wide receivers after catching 110 passes for 1,883 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first five NFL seasons, ran his crossing pattern across midfield moments, after being reversed and ordered by the coaches to stay in the game.

A brutal collision ensued as Stingley attempted to catch a pass from quarterback Steve Grogan and grabbed the football with his right hand as Tatum arrived at full steam power, connecting his shoulder pad directly to the crown of Stingley’s helmet with plenty of torque.

Stingley collapsed motionless at the 10-yard line after fracturing the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae and severely damaging his spinal cord. His cracked helmet was removed and he was carried off the field and taken to the hospital. No penalty flag was thrown as the league ruled the crushing hit was not illegal.

Stingley never walked again and eventually regained limited mobility in his right arm. He lived in a wheelchair for the remainder of his 29 years before the Chicago native died on April 5, 2007 at the age of 55 from heart disease and pneumonia complicated by his spinal condition.

A settlement was reached with the NFL, and the Patriots agreed to pay all of Stingley’s medical expenses for the rest of his life, as well as his children’s education.

Despite all that happened, Stingley’s youngest son, Derek Stingley Sr., never shied away from the sport. He went from playing minor league baseball to nine seasons playing arena football and semi-pro ball.

That fearless mentality has resonated with Stingley’s son, the Texans’ first-round pick and third overall pick and former LSU consensus All-American. Derek Stingley Jr. was six years old when his grandfather died.

He’s been looking at videos and photos of the piece that cost his grandfather so much. He doesn’t harbor hard feelings towards Tatum, who never reconciled with his grandfather. He shows no hesitation in his twitchy, hard-hitting style of play.

This is an extremely proud moment for this Louisiana family. And Derek Stingley Sr. is confident his father would be proud of his grandson’s achievement as one of the first players selected.

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“I think he would be thrilled, over the moon, I think he would be proud,” Stingley Sr. said at NRG Stadium after his son’s induction press conference. “I think that moment for us as a family, how we feel about it would be 100 more of his. Just knowing that his grandson carried on the legacy of our name in a sport that basically robbed him of his livelihood but at the same time something he really loved and cared about.”

What his grandfather and family endured didn’t haunt Stingley Jr. Instead, the former blue-chip recruit has embraced the game his father taught him and honored them with his lockdown cornerback skills. For him, it’s about honoring the family. Don’t dwell on a painful past.

“Well, for me, when I’m playing out there, you don’t want to play if you’re thinking about injuries or if you’re scared, because then something could happen if you’re out there like that,” Stingley Jr. said. “Really, I’m going just get out there and just play, have fun like I said, and just do what I do.”

His father took that approach as a minor league outfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies and when he was once knocked out as a football player. Stingley Sr. could have avoided sports. Instead, he spent three years as a fielder in the Phillies minor league system, played in the Arena Football League for almost a decade, and held several coaching jobs in football.

When Darryl Stingley first injured himself, it was important to his son not to let an aberration stop him from continuing the game he loved.

“My mom had to tell me at the time, ‘This is a freak accident, there’s a one in a million chance that something like this can happen,'” said Stingley Sr., who was drafted by the Phillies in 1993. “Then, my dad ended up singing me the same tune: ‘Look, go out and play football. Don’t be afraid of it. What happened to me was just an anomaly.’ “It became part of everyday life for us. It got to the point where when I woke up in the morning, I would go to the kitchen and get a glass of water, stop myself and go back and visit my dad. It was very natural for us to think like that and be like that. We never saw it as a nuisance or anything.”

A former five-star contender, Stingley Jr. was the nation’s top recruit and dominated Dunham School with his rare blend of athleticism and technical play. As a Freshman All-American, he didn’t miss a beat at LSU.

“I would say I’m just calm,” Stingley Jr. said. “I don’t let my emotions get too high or too low. I know that in certain areas, whenever I make mistakes, I know how to diagnose it and discuss it with my coaches and fix it very quickly.

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At 6 feet, 190 pounds and 4.37 pounds of speed in the 40-yard dash, Stingley Jr. proved he was over a surgically repaired Lisfranc injury at his Campus Pro Day audition at Baton Rouge. With that crucial box ticked, the Texans identified him as the top cornerback on their draft board and selected him as a pick before the New York Jets drafted Cincinnati All-American cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner fourth overall.

With this selection, Houston reaffirmed his faith in Stingley, a Ballengee Sports client, who will soon be on a fully guaranteed four-year, $34.6 million deal, which includes a $22.3 million signing bonus and a club option for the fifth year included.

“It means a lot to me because they saw my true talent beyond anything,” Stingley Jr. said. “Whenever you’re surrounded by people who know your true worth, it just makes you feel better as a person.”

The Texans come up with a simple and challenging task for Stingley Jr. When the Texans called him up, coach Lovie Smith said he planned to make him their opponent’s most dangerous wide receiver in every game.

“He was a prolific player, he was a prolific player early in his career,” said Texans general manager Nick Caserio. “He had some bumps in the road there in ’20 and ’21 but in the end we felt comfortable with Derek. We think he’s a good player. Kind of fits the profile of what we’re trying to do. I would say defensively and the way we build the program, so that was the rationale for the selection there.

“Derek has played at a high level since stepping into the LSU building. Runs well, uses good technique. Plays the ball well, plays under control, hangs up with good anticipation. I’d say his acumen in football is good. “He’s really interested in football, he’s a technician. He’s really devoted to understanding the techniques to play the position. So when you look at it all together, we just had that Feel like that makes the most sense for our team and I would do it.” say there was only organizational consensus.”

Stingley Sr. was seven years old when his father was injured. Four months later his father returned home with his mother Martine. And the family began fostering the former NFL player. Darryl Stingley later became the Patriots’ personal consultant, graduated from Purdue, visited paralyzed patients in hospitals and wrote a book called Happy to be Alive.

On July 14, 1998, while playing safety and returning kicks for the Albany Firebirds, Stingley Sr. fell unconscious and suffered a concussion. He was taken to the hospital. Six years later, Stingley Sr. began coaching.

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Stingley Jr. visited his grandfather before his death and received Darth Vader gifts from him for Christmas. A prayer is said each time Stingley Jr. steps onto the field. The basics of playing the game with proper technique were taught to Stingley Jr. long ago.

“It was part of everyday life for him because his grandfather was already in a wheelchair,” says Stingley Sr. “You can get some guys who can be aggressive and they want to feel that way. But at the end of the day you just play with a kind of technique where anyone can actually walk off the field.

“What happened to my dad didn’t really impact Derek’s decision to play football. And it didn’t really affect my decision because my mom and dad were like, ‘Hey, go out and do it, play it, it’s a good sport. We’re good at that. you are an athlete You can do this. This can be something you can do for a living.’”

Stingley said he plans to work extremely hard and prove he’s worthy of the Texans’ investment in him. “I will always give 100 percent,” he says.

“When Stingley’s healthy, there’s just no better corner in the draft,” an NFL scouting director told Pro Football Network. “He excels in every way that we rate football players. Players like him don’t grow on trees. They’re rare for a reason.”

The football history of this family is also unique. And Stingley Jr.’s reserved personality bears some parallels to his grandfather. It’s reminiscent of Darryl Stingley and how he approached football and life.

“His personality is more like my father’s,” Stingley Sr. said. “Derek is a little more reserved, just like my father spoke a little quietly, think before he speaks. Being a coach, I’m comfortable with speaking a little. I think Derek is better than me at 20 years old and I think he’s better than my dad too.”

Aaron Wilson is a reporter and analyst for Pro Football Network and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

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