Before Pittsburgh Power Defensive Coordinator Derek Stingley spent eight seasons being a defensive force in the Arena Football League and before he spent another eight seasons being a coach and a mentor in the league, he had one season playing minor league football in the small town of Hammond, Louisiana.
In that lone season Stingley showcased his talents breaking three league records. He returned five kickoffs for scores, which is both a single-season and career record as well as having nine total return scores, which remained a record until 2007.
Stingley’s amazing season in minor league football has him being recognized by the American Football Association and is getting him inducted into the Minor League Football Hall of Fame.
But everything could have been very different for Stingley. The high school Stingley attended was on strike for three of the four years he attended it, meaning that football season was always cut short. Where he couldn’t play football, he kept up with baseball.
Soon enough, he was getting looks from top colleges and even the MLB. Stingley decided he would attend Purdue University to play both baseball and football. Because he failed to meet the ACT requirements of Proposition 48, Stingley had to sit out of football season but could continue to work out with the baseball team.
It was circumstances like this that kept him off the gridiron. Even though he was itching to play football, baseball continued to be what kept his athletic career moving.
“Baseball just always seemed to be on top when truly my first love was football,” Stingley said.
In 1993, it continued to be baseball that was in the forefront of Stingley’s career when the Philadelphia Phillies drafted him as a centerfielder. But after spending three years in the Phillies farm system, Stingley said he struggled to develop into a strong leadoff hitter even though he had the speed and fielding ability.
“Like they say, ‘baseball is a game of failures,’” Stingley said. “I failed a lot at baseball.”
Even though his career in baseball didn’t pan out, being in the minor leagues helped him develop a strong work ethic.
“Everyday we had to work. There was really not that many days off,” Stingley said. “We had to understand that there were guys behind you and above you trying to get to the same place you’re trying to get. You basically have to work your tail off to get to the next level.”
Stingley took that mentality with him as he started out on a new endeavor to get back to his first true love.
A friend of his who was attending college in Louisiana told him about a semi-professional football league that was in his area. Stingley saw this as an opportunity to not only get back into the game, but to also spend time with his then-girlfriend and wife-to-be down in Baton Rouge.
One season was all he needed to make a name for himself with the Louisiana Bayou Thunder. His nine touchdowns became a record in 1995 and Stingley was amazed that even without any college experience how much he seemed to dominate the game.
“It was like a man amongst boys and I’m not trying to sound cocky,” Stingley said. “I couldn’t believe I was playing against other guys who had some college experience or pro experience and that I was that much better.”
At that point, the prospect of heading to the National Football League filled his head.
Stingley’s success in Hammond led to him receiving letters and phone calls from coaches for him to come play in the Arena Football League, invitations that Stingley brushed aside with hopes that the NFL was in his future.
“I told these people ‘I’m going to the NFL. I don’t know about your league, but thanks anyway,’” he said. “I was kind of pushing them out the door.”
Eventually, after no NFL team would give him a shot without any college football experience, Stingley thought he would entertain the AFL offers. It took then-Albany Firebirds head coach Mike Hohensee (now the head coach of the Iowa Barnstormers) to get Stingley to really be interested in the indoor league.
“He called me every single day,” he said. “He offered me the contract. And the money at the time, I was like are you serious? Just to play football? Albany was like my second home.”
Stingley spent five of his nine-year AFL career with the Firebirds. He continued to have the mentality that if he worked and made plays that maybe his goal of being in the NFL could be obtainable.
“I never gave that dream up,” Stingley said and in 1999 all of his hard work had paid off when Stingley was brought into the New York Jets training camp.
Although he was only on the roster for a short period of time, Stingley said being around some of the game’s finest like Keyshawn Johnson, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick helped him improve as a football player.
“When I got up there, it was a whole new world,” Stingley said. “They instructed so much to the point that it made me a better defensive back.”
After being cut by the Jets, Stingley would return to the AFL to finish out his career playing for the Chicago Rush, Arizona Rattlers, Carolina Cobras and the Dallas Desperados. Stingley finished his career with 374 tackles, 107 pass break-ups and 19 interceptions.
In 2005, Stingley began a trip down a new avenue: coaching. He was named defensive coordinator of the af2’s Macon Knights and began his journey of mentoring young players achieve their dreams much like he did. Stingley has coached the South Georgia Wildcats and Bossier-Shreveport Battlewings before being named interim head coach of the New Orleans VooDoo in 2011.
Now with the Power, Stingley maintains the same attitude he did as a player. He is the mastermind behind the Power’s number one league ranked defense. As he teaches his young team the ins and outs of the game, he makes sure he let’s his guys know their dreams are not far out of reach.
“Naturally I tell them it’s never too late” he said. “I was a 28 year-old rookie in the NFL. You have to work at it. No one is going to give it to you. You have got to be a true professional.”
It is the professionalism and attitude that Stingley brings to work day in and day out that make him an asset for the Power’s success and make him deserving of the Hall of Fame honor.