Detroit News – Lions LB Stephen Tulloch’s kindness puts JRLA students on right path

Stephen Tulloch, left, and 10th-grader Armani Wiggins talk about the football team at Jalen Rose Academy. Tulloch sponsored an essay-writing contest at the school, with tickets to the Seahawks-Lions game the prize. (Ricardo Thomas/Detroit News)
October 17, 2012
By Josh Katzenstein

Detroit — When Stephen Tulloch was growing up in Miami, former all-pro Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas came to speak at his middle school.

Tulloch grabbed a front-row seat and watched in awe as Thomas spoke.

And as much as Thomas became a role model for Tulloch on the field, the Lions linebacker and defensive captain said he was an example of how an athlete can help his community.

On Tuesday, Tulloch discussed leadership with about 200 ninth- and 10th-graders at the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy on Detroit’s west side.

He answered questions about his upbringing, stressed the importance of school and explained how hard work helped him earn a five-year contract with the Lions after many teams passed on him before the 2011 season.

Tulloch grew up in a single-parent home with his mother raising him and two siblings, so he understands some of the hardships facing Detroit youth.

“My dad wasn’t around when I was (growing up), so I didn’t have that father figure to really show me right from wrong, so I learned off of other people’s mistakes,” he told the group. “I had to figure out how to do the right thing.

“I wake up every morning, and — I’ll tell you no lie — I pinch myself. I could never imagine being here in front of you guys to talk to you guys about life, character and about growing into young men and young women.”

The students, though, were the ones pinching themselves, and some will need to wake up from another dream soon.

For the second straight season, Tulloch will bring 55 students from the school to a Lions game, but as with life, he’s not giving the tickets away. He asked the students to write an essay about leadership, and the homeroom class with the best scores in each grade wins the tickets.

And since everyone won’t win, Tulloch handed out consolation prizes, including an autographed photo, team stickers, a Lions pen and candy.

“I think it’s a good thing for him to give back to the community,” said ninth-grader Ahmad Abdullah, 14, of Detroit. “It really motivated me because I’ve never seen him play, and I’ve never been to a Detroit Lions game, so I though this would be a good opportunity to see him play.”

The winners of his essay contest will attend the game against the Seahawks on Oct. 28.

The principal, Kenya Crockett, said one student was especially motivated.

A 10th-grader wrote a seven-page essay, far longer than the one- to two-page assignment, and asked Crockett to proofread it before and after school. The boy went to the game Tulloch provided tickets for last year and hoped to go again.

Crockett said Tulloch’s contest and presence at the school has given students a responsible, confident role model to follow.

“It is a huge opportunity for them to meet people that are doing things in the community that we are teaching them how to do,” she said. “For the kids to see people that are influential doing positive things… is phenomenal.”

Through his foundation, Tulloch has consistently given back to communities in Detroit, Miami and Nashville, Tenn., where he spent five seasons with the Titans. His “Operation 55″ has given at least 55 underprivileged people, mostly children, tickets to every Lions home game since he joined the team last season.

“I drive around the city (and) I see what’s going on, and it’s rough,” Tulloch said before the event. “You’ve got to find a way to keep moving, and hopefully — the little that I do — I could reach out to certain people and give them the extra boost to try to get to where they want to get.”

He later told the students: “I come here out of love. … I love this because I’ve been there. I’ve been where you guys have been, so I want you guys to realize it’s not where you start, it’s how you finish.”

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