Two years ago, T.J. Duckett left football without looking back. Now, the former Detroit Lions and Michigan State Spartans running back is looking to redefine himself by making a bigger impact off the field than he ever could have on it.
This morning, Duckett sat down to talk about how his life has found new meaning and why shaving his beard has become a national headline.
Since 2005, Duckett has grown out his (now-trademark) beard, shaving it once a year on "St. Baldrick's" day. St. Baldrick's is a foundation that encourages more than just a monetary donation to a good cause. They encourage people to shave their heads and beards as a "bold and powerful symbol of support for children who lose their hair during cancer treatment."
This time around, Duckett let his beard grow for two full years and was encouraged by numerous local business owners following his lead. When he shaves today, it will be the culmination of plenty of hard work and prayerful nights. Proceeds will be donated to the Ingham Regional Healthcare Center—the same hospital that once cared for Duckett's mother who passed away in 2000, after a battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Even more, Duckett is willing to put his money where the hair around his mouth is.
Duckett, along with his brother, now runs a janitorial supply company and has started a non-profit foundation called "Lunch With a Purpose." His goal is providing opportunities and encouraging people to use their lunch hour in their otherwise busy days to volunteer.
"Fifteen minutes or half an hour can really change a person's life."
When asked how often he's heard comparisons between his appearance and MMA/YouTube sensation Kimbo Slice, Duckett laughed and said, "Let's just say, probably every other day."
In fact, it's gotten to the point that Duckett has to convince people he's not a famous street fighter. When traveling recently, he had a lengthy conversation with a "fan" who couldn't stop gushing over Kimbo's last fight and the prospects for a next.
Looking back, Duckett is glad he left the game when he did—on his terms.
About signing with the Detroit Lions in 2007, Duckett calls the move a "dream come true." Born in Kalamazoo, Duckett was a Parade All-American at Loy Norrix High School and went to college in Lansing at Michigan State.
He never wanted to leave Detroit.
"When I got to my free agency, I would have accepted any dollar amount they wanted to give me."
Duckett thought he was staying in Detroit and was told so by team personnel. Then, days later, he found out others were told a different story about his future. Being lied to by the team he grew up cheering for was an eye-opening experience, and Duckett says he finally saw why the Lions were in the situation (i.e. losing) that they were in.
Still, there are no hurt feelings. Duckett knows the NFL is a business, and they made a business decision.
"I wish the best for those players, I will celebrate their success, because at the end of the day, I am a Detroit Lions fan."
Duckett does wish he could have been part of the Detroit Lions' success.
I know that this city—this state as a whole—could really use it. As bad as the Lions have been, this state is full of diehard fans. I wanted to be on a team that could make this state proud of the Detroit Lions.
Perhaps it is fitting, then, that Duckett's off-the-field career has continued to be focused on making such an important difference in people's lives.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.