Lions' Darius Slay blankets area with surprise appearances
Detroit — It’s not just NFL wide receivers that think so — Darius Slay is everywhere.
You might see him if you’re out at an area Friday night high school football or basketball game. He might attend your graduation party. Or he might show up at the fire station to give some love and some lunch to local first responders.
“They do so much in this community,” Slay said Friday at the Southwest Public Safety Center in Detroit. "They deserve it. Just to give back. I love to give back and that’s what I do the best.”
That point is debatable for the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, who nursed a sore hamstring during the bye week after missing the Lions' home game last weekend against Kansas City.
No less, Cleary University student Kam Register was there, repping his Slay No. 23 jersey and cheering on the Lions in a 34-30 defeat.
Register was paying forward support for Slay after the cornerback unexpectedly showed up at his high school graduation party in Howell over the summer after Register messaged Slay on Twitter out of the blue.
Not only did Slay show up for the stranger's party, he hung out for three hours, shooting hoops and playing “water pong” with Register’s uncle and cousin.
Register was preparing for his party, eating some pasta salad and talking to a friend when he saw Slay enter the party area.
“I said, ‘Oh my God, that is Darius Slay.’ I literally took off,” Register told the “Locked On Lions” podcast. “All the chirping with my family that I did that day really paid off when he walked around that corner.”
Slay signed and presented Register with game-worn Pro Bowl gloves at the party and promised him tickets to a game this fall, which Register took him up on last week.
"He has grown up a lot, a whole lot,” Slay’s mother, Stephanie Lowe, said Friday. “I am proud of the young man that he’s become."
Lowe was on hand with Slay to serve about 30 first responders with a Thanksgiving-style meal as part of the Campbell's Chunky Soup Champions of Chunky campaign to surprise local unsung heroes, including gifting them tickets to a game later this season.
Slay summoned Lowe to come up from Georgia for the event as his “Champion,” which is the campaign’s updated version of the commercials that once starred Donovan McNabb and his mother, Wilma.
“She’s a superwoman; I call her that,” Slay said. “She’s my idol. As a motivation, right now, I’m just giving her the world that she deserves. I’m glad I’ve been able to do that for her.”
Slay has also been able to take care of his own children — he’s raising Darion, Demetrius, Trent and Desirae with his wife, Jennifer, a former basketball player at Southwest Oklahoma State — in a way Stephanie wasn’t able to after giving birth to him at 13 in Brunswick, Ga.
“We are like best friends,” Slay said. “She’s only 13 years older than me, so I kind of look at it like she’s my big sister. She taught me a lot of things, some stuff that a man didn’t teach me.”
By the time Victor Floyd became Slay’s high school coach for his senior year, Slay was already a father to Darion.
“He needed a little attention,” Floyd said. “He grew up in a tough situation. Darius had to grow up fast. He needed a little bit of guidance at the time.”
Floyd helped Slay navigate the recruiting trail, and drove Slay and his teammates to offseason showcases and 7-on-7 tournaments.
Slay recognized the extra love and care that Floyd provided by taking the coach and his son to the Pro Bowl in Orlando in 2018.
“Every Pro Bowl I make, he can come to it,” Slay said. “Anything he needs from me, I’m here for him.”
Slay said Darion had to go through the struggle coming up, things like no lights in the house at times, but Stephanie helped care for Slay’s son while he finished school, eventually becoming a standout at Mississippi State after first going the junior college route.
After being picked in the second round by Detroit in 2013, Slay’s older kids have no such perils with their father now a seventh-year NFL player on the third year of a four-year, $48 million contract.
“That’s a little bit different than mine because their process is a lot easier,” Slay said. “I try to teach them to be high character. Your identity is everything, respect is earned, your name is everything. Carry it the way you want it to be carried.”
Slay, 28, is carrying his name by having fun with the occasional surprise.
On Tuesday, Slay was due to surprise students at Coleman A. Young Elementary School in Detroit and present a playscape donation from Lady Jayne's.
During his time with the Lions, he has often panned social media for the best high school games to attend, and shows up.
That was well before the organization formalized Lions Game of the Week events where players now show up in uniform, addressing high school teams and standing on the sidelines with them throughout the fall.
On the same weekend that he visited Register’s graduation party, which was during his offseason holdout in hopes of a re-worked contract, Slay and teammates Will Harris, Jamal Agnew and Tracy Walker put on an impromptu free camp for high schoolers at West Bloomfield High School.
Slay is often brash -- it’s almost a pre-requisite for the ultra-competitive environment of containing NFL passing games -- but has put in the work to make Sundays appear effortless, his position coach said last week.
"On the outside, it looks like a guy who goes out there and does his thing, but he puts in the work. He likes to practice. He pushes himself. So I think when you do those things, you have confidence,” Lions defensive backs coach Brian Stewart said. “He just loves him some Slay.
“Some of those guys, arrogance kind of spills out to other things. From what I see, his does not.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.