Editor’s Note: This is the cover story from the December edition of Tiger Rag Extra, which we’ve dubbed out 2019 Recruiting Guide since the Early Signing Period begins Wednesday. Click here to find a newsstand near you or order your own copy for delivery.
Defensive Back University.
The acronym “DBU” is not a nickname for those within the LSU football program. It’s an institution.
The Tigers have staked claim to the moniker for the better part of the last decade by regularly producing some of the best safeties and cornerbacks in the country, many of whom have gone on to make names for themselves playing on Sundays.
The tradition arguably began with legends like Jerry Stovall and Tommy Casanova, who built a foundational precedence for great defensive players to stand out at LSU.
That foundation eventually provided even footing for more recent standouts such as Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid who, in turn, inspired more great defensive backs like Jalen Mills and Tre’Davious White. They in turn gave way to the current crop of stars like Greedy Williams and Grant Delpit.
The Tigers think they’ve found the next enrollee for DBU to bolster that reputation. He’s drawn comparisons to more than one of DBU’s recent alumni, and he’s widely considered the nation’s best defensive prospect of the 2019 recruiting class.
His name is Derek Stingley Jr., and he was born to do this.
LSU DIDN’T HAVE to look far to find Stingley Jr. He’s spent the last five years (he began playing varsity football as an eighth grader) playing for the Dunham School, whose campus sits less than 10 miles away from Tiger Stadium.
There, the 6-foot-1, 188-pound cornerback developed into one of the most highly-touted defensive back prospects in recent memory.
At Nike’s The Opening Finals, one of the nation’s largest camps for football recruits, Stingley Jr. recorded a 4.30-second 40-yard dash and a 42-inch vertical jump. Those numbers pin him as one of the most physically gifted athletes in the 2019 class.
The 247Sports Composite Rankings currently have the unanimous five-star prospect pinned as the No. 3 recruit in the country and the top defensive prospect.
Stingley Jr. himself said he’s never really contextualized his talent in a way that places him as one of the top football players in the country at his age. He doesn’t really think about it much.
“The only time I notice it is when I go to one of those big camps like The Opening or Rival’s Five Star and everyone’s calling me out and saying ‘I want him.’”
Stingley Jr. didn’t always tower over his peers, however. Dunham head football coach Neil Weiner said he looked pretty small in stature when he first began playing football for Dunham.
“To be perfectly honest, he was pretty small, even for his grade,” Weiner says. “He wasn’t like the physical specimen that he is now.”
But didn’t take long for Stingley Jr. to impress Weiner and the rest of the Dunham coaching staff.
After dominating eighth grade football for the first three weeks of the season, Weiner made the decision to let Stingley Jr. play on the varsity team.
It took all but two weeks for the middle schooler among high schoolers to show Weiner what kind of competitor he had. In a 12-7 loss against Northeast, Stingley Jr. had a chance to catch a pass at receiver that Weiner described as “very difficult to catch.”
“I wouldn’t have expected a high school senior to make that kind of play,” Weiner says. “He was 13, and he was just so disappointed he didn’t make a play he thought he should have.
“That was the moment I knew he was a lot different than a lot of the guys I’ve coached before.”
By the end of his freshman year, Stingley Jr. hit a growth spurt and began to stand out among his peers. He received a scholarship offer from then-LSU coach Les Miles, the first of 32 offers from major Division I programs he would receive over the next three years.
Everywhere Stingley Jr. went he stood out. From high school games with Dunham to summer skills camps in which he competed with other standouts from around the country, his raw ability could be seen early and often.
Weiner struggled to find any receiver to challenge him in practice, forcing him to get a bit creative.
“Our wide receivers coach is a young guy named Byron Johnson,” Weiner says. “He played at Southeastern (Louisiana) where he was a team captain and multi-year starter. He had a tryout with the New Orleans Saints, and he’s a 6-2, 200-pound wide receiver.”
That’s who Stingley Jr. lined up against during scout drills when preparing week after week for Dunham’s opponents.
In addition to practicing with Dunham and participating in camps, Stingley Jr. also receives training from 13-year NFL veteran and one-time Pro Bowler Ryan Clark, an alumni of DBU himself.
Clark owns a training facility where he’s trained the likes of Landon Collins, Tre’Davious White and Donte Jackson.
He doesn’t usually work with high school athletes because he prefers to work with athletes who are serious about their craft. But when he met Stingley Jr. through his son Jordan Clark – a cornerback at University High and an Arizona State commit – he saw a kid with the athleticism and the attitude he could work with.
“Just look at his athleticism and the measurables,” Clark says. “A lot of times, people say that doesn’t tell the whole story of a player. But when you have a 16-year-old kid who is over 6-foot, over 190 pounds, can run and jump and have the kind of ball skills that Derek has, that’s when you get into those Jalen Ramsey and Patrick Peterson kinds of conversations.
“Derek, at a young age, is in those kinds of conversations for his peer groups and his age group. If he continues to work the way that he is, he has an opportunity to be right where those guys are today.”
DEREK STINGLEY JR. IS A LEGACY ATHLETE, a third-generation football player whose surname holds significant weight in the world of football.
A look at Stingley Jr.’s pedigree seems to show football was destined to be a part of his life in some capacity.
“When you grow up around people who have been successful, no matter what field it is, you’re going to feel like that’s what you’re supposed to do,” Weiner says. “For other people it may be real estate, it may be medicine, it may be law. For (Stingley Jr.) it’s been athletics.”
Of all the coaches and mentors Stingley has accrued during his high school football career, there’s one that stands out among the rest as most important and influential.
That would be his father and namesake, Derek Stingley Sr.
Stingley Sr.’s athletic resume is as long as it is impressive. He was drafted in the 27th round of the 1993 Major League Baseball Draft as a center fielder by the Philadelphia Phillies. After spending three years in the Phillies’ farm system, the multi-sport athlete in high school decided football was more his speed.
Over the next nine years, Stingley Sr. played football, mostly in the Arena Football League, where he played for six different teams and won a championship with the Albany Firebirds.
Since then, he has made his living coaching a myriad of different arena football teams, and he now coaches Dunham’s middle school team.
But the first Stingley to make a name for himself was Derek Stingley Jr.’s grandfather, Darryl Stingley, who was involved in one of the most infamous plays in football history.
A standout wide receiver at Purdue, Darryl Stingley was selected in the first round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots, where he would spend his entire and unfortunately-short career.
During a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders in 1977, Stingley stretched out for a pass over his head when Oakland defensive back Jack Tatum collided with him in what would be a life-altering play.
The hit left Stingley paralyzed, and he spent the rest of his life as a quadriplegic until he died in 2007.
The tragic accident never dissuaded the Stingley family from participating in sports, however. Darryl Stingley always referred to the incident as a freak accident, and he encouraged all of his sons to participate in athletics.
Two generations later, his grandson has a chance to carry on the family legacy.
“I’m not going to say it’s supposed to happen because anything could happen,” Stingley Jr. says of continuing the family tradition of playing professional football. “But people are looking forward to it happening. It’s a pretty big deal for me.”
Stingley Jr. says his parents would have supported whether he pursued sports or not, but it didn’t take long for him to fall in love with football.
There are photographs of him playing in the back yard at the age of three, and he began playing Pee Wee football at just five years old.
He himself doesn’t spend much time talking about his family’s legacy. For him, his father’s and his grandfather’s accomplishments and their stories playing football are great, but ultimately they’re their accomplishments and stories.
Stingley wants to create his own legacy, earn his own accomplishments, tell his own story.
“Derek is just Derek,” Clark says. “That’s who he wants to be. I think that’s part of the beauty of it. There’s not a whole lot of talk. It’s a lot of work and a lot of action.”
CHOOSING LSU MAY seem like an easy decision on the surface, but reality is almost always more complicated than that.
Stingley Jr. immediately committed to LSU after receiving an offer following his freshman year, but being so young, that didn’t stop other top programs in the country from knocking on his door and feeding him an offer.
After receiving offers from schools such as Alabama, Florida, Florida State and Tennessee during his sophomore year, Stingley Jr. decided to decommit and play the field, which opened a floodgate of new offers from more of the nation’s most recognizable programs.
“When I decommitted my sophomore year, it was open at that point,” Stingley Jr. says.
First the offers remained limited to the Southeast. Schools like Georgia, Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma made offers. Then other programs across the country began to take notice as he received offers from Penn State, Notre Dame and Oregon.
Eventually, Stingley Jr. narrowed it down to three schools: LSU, Florida and Texas, all schools known for developing defensive backs.
But after taking visits to Florida and Texas, he couldn’t shake the feeling that home was right down the road.
“I thought about playing at home and playing in front of friends and family and how cool that would be,” Stingley Jr. says. “I’m from here. I’ve been raised here my whole life.”
He also said the prospect of playing for a defensive coordinator like Dave Aranda was too good an opportunity to pass up.
“He’s such a smart dude,” Stingley Jr. says. “He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does talk he makes me feel smart. It’s going to be fun.”
As a Baton Rouge resident and LSU fan, Stingley Jr. is already familiar with the tradition of DBU. He grew up idolizing guys like Patrick Peterson, who he now draws comparisons to despite not stepping foot on a college football field yet.
“That’s somebody who I’ve looked up to ever since he was at LSU,” Stingley Jr. says. “He’s one of the dudes I wanted to be compared to, on and off the field. You never hear about any problems with him off the field, and on the field he’s a great leader.”
He’s familiar with the laundry list of NFL defensive backs to come out of LSU because he watched all of them growing up. He knows what the No. 7 jersey represents, and he hopes to wear it with pride one day.
He wants to beat Alabama every single year he puts on an LSU jersey and flip the script on the now one-sided rivalry.
He knows the pressure for him to succeed is high. He can’t help but feel it. But at the same time, it doesn’t seem to bother him.
The bar he’s set for himself is bounds higher what anyone else can expect from him.
“There’s a lot that comes with it, especially playing at LSU,” Stingley Jr. says. “Expectations are high. It’s DBU. There are a lot of great players who have been in that position. Living up to it is going to be a challenge.”
There’s a nonchalance to his tone when he speaks about his comparisons to one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks and the prospect of earning the coveted No. 7 LSU jersey. It’s almost matter of fact.
He clearly knows he has a lot of work ahead of him, but he also gives off the sense that everything he wants is within his grasp. He just has to go get it.
In roughly nine months, Stingley Jr.’s hard work will culminate in his first ever game in Tiger Stadium, a venue he has watched countless football games alongside 100,000 fellow fans.
For the next few years, he will be playing for those 100,000 people, representing them with a gold helmet and a white jersey with his name stitched on the back.
That will mark the first chapter of DBU’s Derek Stingley Jr. era. What happens next, well, that’s really up to him.