Siran Stacy wears the pain in a way that is real.
It trembles in his words. It flows in the tears that stream down his face as he shares his story.
You feel it as he pulls a 16-year-old boy to his chest in an embrace.
You feel it again as he talks to a high school softball player and shares a memory of his daughter, Lequisa, once a junior college softball player. The pain cuts through the smile on his face.
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You keep feeling it when a woman old enough to be the 41-year-old man’s mother hugs him, then tells him he will be in her prayers.
His pain turns to a smile when he talks about his daughter, Shelly. They are survivors.
For a quarter of a century, Stacy has rushed in and out of my world. As a young south Alabama sports writer — first in Enterprise, then in Dothan — Stacy was a prep star at Geneva High School.
His talent landed him a scholarship offer to Alabama. But he didn’t finish the drill, failed to graduate with his class and was exiled to a junior college in Coffeyville, Kan.
End of the story, right?
He became the top junior college running back in the country. That brought him home to Alabama. He was just as good on Saturday afternoons as he was on Friday nights. He scored 27 touchdowns in two seasons at Alabama. Twice, he was an All-Southeastern Conference player.
The guys who play on Sunday noticed, and he was drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia Eagles.
He didn’t last in the NFL, playing in one game and never getting a single rushing attempt. He was released amid legal and injury woes.
He bounced around NFL Europe and the Canadian Football League.
Close enough to the glory to taste it, but he just didn’t make it.
The story ends there, right?
Not even close.
Wednesday morning Stacy was standing on the floor of the Columbus Civic Center. There were two wrecked cars behind him. Some beer cans were scattered about.
Emergency vehicles were on the scene.
It was a reenactment designed to mimic what happens when people make bad decisions.
The arena was half full with high school juniors from across the Chattahoochee Valley.
The message was simple: Don’t drink and drive.
The messenger, Stacy, was far more complicated. He’s not perfect — but he has never claimed to be. His message, however, is perfect enough if you are trying to scare a bunch of bulletproof high school kids.
His world changed on Nov. 19, 2007. Traveling on a road outside Dothan, Ala., Stacy’s van was hit by a drunk driver driving on the wrong side of the highway.
In an instant, he lost his wife, Ellen, and four children, Lequisa, 18, Bronson, 10, Sidney, 8, and Ellie, 2.
He told the story of loss and bad decisions in powerful detail.
Columbus Police Sgt. Tim Wynn is a hard-nosed motorcycle cop who has heard a number of scared-straight messages aimed at teenagers. But he was struck by the reality in Stacy’s words, and the tears rolling down his face.
“I can’t imagine what he is going through,” Wynn said. “I can’t fathom it.”
Stacy said one of the ways he deals with the loss and gut-wrenching pain is to tell his story. To try to find a kid or two who will latch on to his message and do the right thing when the tug of peer pressure is at its greatest.
“In this type of setting, I hope to have an impact,” Stacy said.
“Maybe there is a kid on the verge of suicide or on the verge of giving up. Maybe that kid will change his mind or not make that choice.”
There is another reason Stacy puts on a microphone and shares the details of his life with strangers.
“I get to talk about my family,” he said.
No matter how much it hurts.