Ken Martin/The Wolfpacker
Stephen Tulloch’s mom never wanted him to play football.
She knew he was small, much smaller than his older brother — 6-foot-2, 270-pound David Tulloch — who grew up to play for Bobby Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles.
Stephen was a much more vulnerable kid.
“She was afraid I would get hurt,” Tulloch said. “After a while, she became OK with it, and now she’s my biggest fan.”
Growing up in a rough part of Miami, however, had similar dangers. Tulloch wanted nothing more than to get his mother out of there.
“She became my why, my reason to do everything,” said Tulloch, who returned to Raleigh last weekend for the Kay Yow Spring Football game as well as the Friday night player reunion. “All I ever wanted to do was make her happy and change her life.
“Football provided me with the opportunity to do that.”
That’s why this summer is going to mean so much for Tulloch. He is taking a half-dozen friends he’s made during his 11-year NFL career, as well as a crew from NFL Network, to his mother’s hometown of Negril, Jamaica, in June where they will build a large preschool for 3-to-7-year-old children.
“It’s where she was born and raised, and a place I enjoy going back to,” Tulloch said. “I’ve always wanted to go back there and do something for that community. I’ve seen what the kids are lacking and what they need, education-wise.”
In this case, it will be a school with six classrooms, a sick bay for children and offices for the administrative staff. It’s the biggest project ever undertaken by the Stephen Tulloch Foundation, which the linebacker started in 2009 to benefit underprivileged children.
“Building this school is something that is more than just mission work,” he said. “It’s hard work, a lot of labor that we will do in the heat of Jamaica.”
It’s the perfect kind of project for Tulloch, who has long been one of the hardest working and most generous players in the NFL. The former Lions’ defensive captain has been his teams’ nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in each of the last five seasons for his charity and community service work.
In 2005, few people ever thought Tulloch would have such a long and accomplished playing career. He still remembers the cross-eyed stares he received on the day he announced he was going to go pro after his junior season at NC State.
“A lot of people looked at me like I was crazy,” Tulloch recalled. “But it’s been 11 years in the NFL since then. I’m grateful for the position I’ve been in since that last game.”
The undersized linebacker was coming off a most valuable player performance at the 2005 Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte and seemed poised to have a big senior season.
Instead, he crawled out from the shadow of defensive teammates Mario Williams, Manny Lawson, John McCargo (all first-round NFL picks), along with Tank Tyler and DeMario Pressley, to become a decade-long presence in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans, Detroit Lions and the Philadelphia Eagles.
It might be surprising to know that Tulloch outmatched all but Williams on the list of former Wolfpack players in NFL career starts. Quarterback Philip Rivers (185) recently passed Jim Ritcher (180) for the top spot on that list. Williams is No. 7 with 150 and Tulloch ranks No. 9 with 115.
That number would have been bigger too, except that Tulloch missed most of the 2014 season with a knee injury he suffered in the third game. It was the first time he had ever missed a practice or game in his high school, college or professional careers.
Tulloch signed a one-year, $3 million contract to play for the Eagles last year, but recorded just seven tackles in 10 games. He’s not sure yet whether he will pursue a 12th NFL season, which would put him among rare company among NC State football alumni.
Only Roman Gabriel (16), Ritcher (16), Rivers (13), Jerricho Cotchery (12), Darrell Dess (12), DeWayne Washington (12) and Adrian Wilson (12) have played a dozen or more seasons in the NFL.
“Whatever happens from here on out,” Tulloch said, “is just icing on the cake.”
He does, however, still have goals. When his playing career ends, he wants to finish off his degree in sports management. He wants to continue the work he does with his foundation and its charity work. And he wants to see more of the world, a passion he has developed through his football career.
As always, though, he doesn’t just want to see the world. He hopes to change it.
Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker and can be reached at email@example.com.
NC State Alumni NFL starts (regular season plus playoffs)
* active as of 2016
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