Derek Stingley Jr. barely knew grandpa, but thinks of him 'every time I go on the field'
BATON ROUGE — The only film clip LSU's Derek Stingley Jr. has seen of his grandfather was "just the hit," as he calls it.
Stingley's grandfather is the late Darryl Stingley, a wide receiver for the New England Patriots who was paralyzed for the rest of his life at age 26 after a hit by Oakland Raiders' safety Jack Tatum in a preseason game in Oakland on Aug. 12, 1978. Stingley, a first round pick of New England in 1973 out of Purdue, lived as a quadriplegic until he was 55 and died on April 5, 2007, in his native Chicago.
"I've never seen anything else," Stingley Jr. said during media interviews in Atlanta last week before the No. 1 Tigers beat Oklahoma, 63-28, in a national semifinal to reach the national championship game on Jan. 13 in New Orleans against No. 3 Clemson.
"He was going up for a ball. He saw the hit coming, and he just tried to like tense for it," Stingley Jr. said. "And it just happened. He couldn't really avoid it."
Stingley Jr. was 5 years old when his grandfather died.
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"I don't remember that much," he said. "We would go up there for Christmas. And he would always give me a Darth Vader mask and cape and the voice thing. That's pretty much all I remember. And my dad said that he saw something in me back then, but I don't remember."
Stingley did once tell his son Derek Stingley, Sr., now a defensive back coach at the Dunham School in Baton Rouge and a former Arena Football League player, said he saw something in his grandson.
"My dad saw him as a young kid," Stingley said. "He ran routes for him when he was 4 or 5 years old. Dad said, 'That boy's going to be special.'"
He was right. Stingley committed to LSU in 2018 as the No. 1 overall prospect in the country out of Dunham. Just a freshman, Stingley Jr. is a consensus first team All-American cornerback in his freshman season at LSU by USA TODAY, The Associated Press, The Sporting News, ESPN and CBS, among others.
"He could be a first round pick in the next draft," said LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who is glad he will have him for two more seasons. "He is one of the best cornerbacks I have seen."
Stingley Jr. naturally wants to play in the NFL, where his grandfather did for five seasons. The 19th overall selection in 1973, Stingley was coming off his best season in the NFL when he was injured. He had caught 39 passes for 657 yards and five touchdowns with the Patriots in 1977.
"Derek's always been a Patriots fan," Stingley Sr. said. "He gets the history. I think about my dad every day."
Stingley Jr. thinks about him every game.
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"I'm just continuing on the Stingley name," he said. "And every time I go on the field, I always think about him. And I think about my dad, and all of my family."
Stingley Sr., a football and baseball star at Orr Academy High in Chicago in the late 1980s, went to Purdue in 1989 like his father before transferring to Triton College in Illinois. He was also drafted, but by Philadelphia of Major League Baseball in the 26th round in 1993. He played professional baseball and later professional football, but did not make it to the NFL or MLB.
"I want to make it to the NFL, but not really because my dad didn't," Stingley Jr. said. "That's just the path I hope I can go. But if not, it is what it is."
Stingley Sr. is trying his best to complete the NFL circle that his dad started. He has been his son's personal coach since he was a toddler, focusing on various hand and football drills ever since Stingley Jr. can remember.
"In my opinion, he's the best coach I've had," he said. "I've had him every year until this year, so he has to be doing something right."
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Orgeron would agree, and he has since Stingley Jr. arrived at LSU ready made.
"I never had a player ready to play like Derek Stingley Jr.," Orgeron said Tuesday. "And I think his father had a lot to do with it. In fact, I know he did. I'm very good friends with his father. I have a lot of respect of his father. He's an excellent coach, an excellent dad. He and Derek have a really unique relationship."
Not all sons are so receptive of constant coaching by their dad after they reach a certain age.
"Sometimes a coach's son doesn't want his daddy to coach him," Orgeron said. "I remember when I went home, I tried to coach my boys, and they said, 'Dad, I've got a coach.' It just so happens that Coach Stingley is a defensive backfield coach."
And it is working.
"I've come in on Sundays and Saturdays to the indoor facility in the off-season," Orgeron said. "And there was Derek working out with his dad, and he had all the other defensive backs there. Derek Jr. has just a phenomenal work ethic, phenomenal character."
Stingley Jr. says he tries to represent his grandfather and father every time he steps on the field.
"I just think about how I look out there," he said. "And I always want to be the best I can be."
And Stingley Jr. does not think about an injury like the one his grandfather suffered.
"No, that's never really been the talk or anything," he said. "Going on the field thinking about that and playing scared, that's not the way to play."