Siran Stacy overcame many obstacles to become one of the most potent running backs in Alabama football history. He has had many more obstacles in his personal life including the tragic loss of his wife and four of his children in a car wreck in 2007. (Photo courtesy Unv Alabama Athletic Dept.)
By Tim Gayle
(June 16, 2017)
“I was down in Geneva, Alabama, at a place called ‘The Bottom.’ I saw it on black and white TV one Saturday morning. You had to twist the antenna just to get a signal. I saw a man standing under the goal post and a whole bunch of guys running on the field wearing red jerseys. That ignited a dream inside me. I said from that moment on, ‘I’m going to play for that man.’”
– Siran Stacy
Paul “Bear” Bryant retired from coaching before Siran Stacy ever suited up for Geneva High School but the shifty runner with great vision and blazing speed never lost sight of his dream to play college football at the University of Alabama.
The obstacles he overcame to emerge as a star for the Crimson Tide are just one part of a life of professional setbacks and a horrific personal tragedy that set him on a path toward the creation of Siran Stacy Ministries.
On Monday, he will serve as the guest host for the 20th Kevin Turner Prattville YMCA Golf Tournament at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Capitol Hill. For Stacy, Turner’s battle with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which led to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and his death in March, 2016, hits home for a teammate who had to battle depression following the loss of his wife and four of his five children in an automobile accident in 2007.
Stacy, who now lives in Franklin, Tenn., will be in town a day early to speak at Hunter Hills Church of Christ. His Sunday speech, never planned but always heartfelt, will offer the testimony of a religious person who has battled a lifetime of obstacles but rarely lost focus in his journey.
“There’s a love inside of me that I have for all people – black, white, poor, rich, it doesn’t matter – that I didn’t have before that tragedy, to be honest,” Stacy said. “I didn’t have this compassion or passion to try to give hope to the hopeless. The person that is at the very, very end, I want to talk to that person. I want to encourage them not just with vain words, I want to encourage them with truth. Because that’s the only thing that’s going to move them. Truth.
“You can’t help someone without the love of Christ in you. You can speak to them and tell them good stuff, but if you don’t love them, very few times can you have an impact in their lives. That’s what I’ll be doing on Sunday and Monday. I’ll be expressing the love of Christ inside of me with truth. I won’t pretend to be something I’m not.”
A Geneva star is born
One of seven children born to Ellis and Marie Stacy in the small south Alabama town of Geneva, Siran Stacy showed an early gift for football at Geneva High, attracting the attention of Alabama coach Ray Perkins, the successor to Bryant. But Stacy had neglected to keep his grades in order and Perkins told the youngster he would keep him in mind in two years after his graduation from junior college. Former Alabama receivers coach Dave Rader, who was now at Tulsa, suggested Coffeyville Junior College.
“When I left high school, my GPA wasn’t high enough to go to Alabama,” Stacy said. “Dave Radar was coaching in Tulsa and he knew a guy coaching at Coffeyville Junior College in Coffeyville, Kansas. Coach Perkins said, ‘Go out and get your grades up and they’ll be a place for you at Alabama.’ So I got on a Greyhound bus and went 33 hours to Coffeyville, Kansas.”
At a place Stacy described as smaller than Geneva “in the middle of nowhere,” the freshman would have to prove himself again to head coach Dick Foster.
“He was one of the most hard-driven coaches you ever want to meet,” Stacy said. “His mentor was Woody Hayes. He was not nice. But there were a lot of out-of-staters out there trying to do the same thing I was doing and they could only keep so many so it became survival of the fittest.
“Life started over for me. I started maturing academically, physically, I really started applying myself in my schoolwork. My mind just opened up. The dream for me was to make it back to Alabama, but Coach Perkins had left and went to the NFL. I had become the No. 1 running back in the nation and broke all of Mike Rozier’s records at Coffeyville.
Dick Foster said, "You can go wherever you want to go." Nebraska and Tom Osbourne was recruiting him, Barry Switzer (at Oklahoma), Joe Paterno at Penn State, just to name a few. But Stacy’s heart was still in Alabama.
“But there I was, wanting to go to Alabama and Coach Perkins was gone. They had a new coach and those alumni in Geneva – Steve Vickers and Dr. O.D. Mitchum – got the university to take a look at me. Bobby Humphrey had gone pro (in the supplemental draft after his junior season) and they looked at me.”
A magical first season for the Tide
After rushing for 1,037 yards and 25 touchdowns as a sophomore at Coffeyville, Stacy had earned All-America honors as the top scorer in the junior college ranks in 1988. With undersized senior Murry Hill as the only returning tailback with any real experience, Stacy was a welcome addition in the spring of 1989.
His first game in a crimson uniform, on Sept. 16, 1989 against Memphis State at Birmingham’s Legion Field, was one to remember. He rushed for 169 yards on 14 carries, scoring four touchdowns to earn Southeastern Conference Player of the Week honors. He was on the sideline for the first scoring drive, a 20-yard run by Turner, but added the next four touchdowns to tie a school record held by Bobby Marlow, Johnny Musso and David Casteal.
Stacy became the first tailback (quarterback Richard Todd also did it 16 years earlier) to rush for 100 yards in his Crimson Tide debut.
“That September day in the fall of 1989, when I ran out on the field at Legion Field I saw the goal post,” Stacy said. “And I had chills. It was just an eerie, eerie feeling to walk onto Legion Field and see that goal post. I can’t quite explain it. It was surreal. It was Saturday morning – the Million Dollar Band, the Alabama cheerleaders, Big Al. Coming out of that tunnel, everybody was shouting and I’m fixated on that goal post.
"I can remember hearing a voice telling me to remember when I was 8 years old, when you left Geneva, when you were out there (in Coffeyville) alone, when they said you would never amount to anything. I got tears in my eyes.”
Stacy went on to earn second team All-America honors that year after piling up a school record 317 all-purpose yards in an historic 47-30 win over sixth-ranked Tennessee and completing the season with 1,079 yards and an SEC-best 18 touchdowns. Suddenly, he was being mentioned as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate for the upcoming season. His name was mentioned alongside other great running backs in Crimson Tide history. And if that was the end of the story, everyone would live happily ever after.
An injured dream
The story would take a turn. Stacy tore all three major ligaments (anterior, posterior and medial) in his right knee in the 1990 season opener against Southern Mississippi and was told he may never play football again.
“You’re talking about going from the White House to the outhouse,” Stacy said. “THAT was surreal. The newspapers said career ending injury. Fighting through depression, back down in the dumps again.”
He remembers a young volunteer for Athletes in Action coming by the dorm soon after and talking to the depressed running back. He doesn’t remember the words, but he left a book by Charles Stanley on overcoming adversity.
“It was a very inspiring book,” Stacy recalled. “I was inspired by that and also by Coach Gene Stallings. I would be depressed and he’d say, ‘Siran, go by the RISE Center.’ It was a little place where all the Down Syndrome kids were. I would go there and (Alabama assistant coach and Stallings’ friend) Gerald Jack was there and I would find solace in holding those Down Syndrome babies.”
Stacy went through rehabilitation with a young specialist who had just arrived from Samford, Ron Courson. Years later, Courson, now the director of sports medicine at the University of Georgia, would invite Stacy to speak to the Bulldogs.
“I gave it to him,” said Stacy, who still has two screws in his right knee to this day. “He was trying to bend my knee and break scar tissue. I was shouting and screaming at him. I had to buy into all of his stuff but he was trying to teach me. The type of knee surgery I had – they told me this later – they said it takes at least two to three years to recover, if you get back.
" He got me back the next year. This man was in my life at a time that I sorely needed hope and he was just a guy from Samford who was trying to get a job.”
After a medical redshirt season, Stacy returned to the field in 1991. The numbers weren’t quite the same because Stallings’ approach relied more on defense but his team-leading 967 yards and 10 touchdowns still led the team and attracted the attention of the Philadelphia Eagles, who made him their top draft pick in the spring of 1992.
The dream was short-lived. A year later, he was cut by the Eagles, having never officially carried the ball in a regular-season NFL game. He would prove his ability in the Canadian Football League and in NFL Europe, earning league MVP honors in 1997, but would never get the chance to achieve his dream of stardom in the National Football League.
“There is a lot of politics in the National Football League,” Stacy said. “You really need to be fortunate to connect with the right organization. You need to be somewhere where they want you and will support you. Once I got released by the Eagles and went to NFL Europe – with the promise that I would come back to some NFL team, which never happened – it was like being blackballed.
“(Head coach) Marty Schottenheimer told me after the Kansas City Chiefs signed me in 1997, he told me you could start for 26 NFL teams right now. That’s how impressed he was with me. But he looked me in the eye and kind of gave me, ‘Sometimes, the deck is just stacked against you.’ God allowed me to play in the National Football League, allowed me to play in NFL Europe and travel all over the world so I tend to look at all the good.”
Stacy finished his professional playing career in 2000 and entered the world of corporate finance, working with organizations such as Countrywide Home Loans and Wells Fargo Home Mortgage while talking to small groups through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Bill Glass Prison Ministry.
Those roles would change dramatically after Nov. 19, 2007 when his family van was broadsided at an intersection less than a mile from his house. Stacy’s wife Ellen, 10-year-old son Bronson, 18-year-old daughter Lequisa, 9-year-old daughter Sydney and 2-year-old daughter Ellie Ann-Marie were killed, along with the driver of the pickup that hit them. Stacy was seriously injured but would recover, as would his 4-year-old daughter Shelly.
A year later, Stacy was asked to give his testimony to a small church in Gulf Shores and the requests have been flooding in ever since, causing him to start Siran Stacy Ministries.
“I wouldn’t say it is the defining moment, I would say it’s part of my journey,” Stacy said. “It is a devastating moment in my life. It will always be part of the journey that I’m on, but I don’t think it will define me. God is the only one who can define who I am. My ministry is not just about what happened in 2007. That’s part of my journey but the overwhelming message is there is nothing that Jesus cannot pull you out of.”
Stacy and Kevin Turner were teammates in their careers at Alabama. Stacy will take his message to the RTJ Capitol Hill on Monday as part of the annual YMCA Golf Tournament. (Photo courtesy Unv Alabama Athletic Dept.)
Stacy is thankful the message will take him to Capitol Hill on Monday to a place where his college friend spent most of the adult years of his life trying to help the community he grew up in. Turner loaned his name to the annual YMCA golf tournament that raises money for the Coach-A-Child campaign, making YMCA services available to those who are financially unable to receive them otherwise.
He will pose for pictures with golfers and tell stories of the fullback who opened holes for him to rush for 2,106 yards at Alabama and helped him finish second in career all-purpose yardage per game (120.9) behind Bobby Humphrey and tie Humphrey for most 100-yard games in a Crimson Tide season (6). Future record-breaking stars Sherman Williams (1994), Shaun Alexander (1999), Mark Ingram (2009), Trent Richardson (2011) and Derrick Henry (2015) would set new standards, living out a dream like the one Stacy had that Saturday morning watching television in Geneva.
“You’ve got to make the right choice,” he said. “You can’t blame it on dad, you can’t blame it on mom, you can’t blame it on the white people, you can’t blame it on the black people. You’ve got to make the choice that is right for the journey that is inside of you. You can make a difference.”