He’s made a difference on Tuesdays all season long, tirelessly giving back to the community on his day off. Now, he’s back doing it on Sundays as well, evidenced by his season-best performance against the Patriots.
Things are coming together nicely for Kenny Stills and if you know him, if you follow his path and understand his priorities, you’ll quickly realize he deserves everything he’s getting. The accolades. The passes. Everything.
It’s been a few days since Stills has been named the team’s nominee for NFL Man of the Year and with the game against the Patriots occupying so much of our attention, I haven’t had a chance to properly weigh in, until now.
The decision to award this honor to Stills for the second year in a row has slam dunk written all over it. Look at this way: There are players that give back and then there is Kenny Stills.
Nobody does more than he does. Nobody gives up every single off day to spend time in the community, helping, advising, counseling and in some cases putting a kindergarten girl on his lap and reading: “Duck, Duck Goose.”
That’s what Stills did on one of his recent Tuesday visits at Miami’s Scott Lake Elementary and while so many people have written about his battle against social injustice, his work with police departments and the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) and his passion to help those less fortunate, it is the time he spends with children, and the look in their eyes, that seem to affect him most.
For them, Kenny Stills isn’t a football player, but simply a nice, friendly, warm young man who wants to add a little brightness to their lives.
“It’s different when you’re with (kids) because they’re just straight up with you,” Stills said. “They’re very honest. They’re not shy about anything. I love spending time with them and I know that, I hope that, I can be a positive influence in their lives.”
Like he has already for so many people, regardless of age. See, Kenny Stills is all about giving. Every chance he gets. To every person he meets. It is his passion, his purpose and the underlying story of his journey.
“Like I tell the kids,” Stills said. “If you can do one good deed a day it can change the world.”
The Dolphins have had three previous nominees—Dwight Stephenson, Dan Marino and Jason Taylor—win the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award. I’m sure there are inspiring stories in every city, stories that clearly depict why their nominee is most deserving. This isn’t something, after all, that can be judged by statistics or game changing plays. This is about measuring heart and commitment.
And when it comes to those two areas, it’ll be hard to find someone more qualified than Stills.
Then there’s the football part of his story, a player who of recent has had a major impact on this offense and who is coming off his finest performance of the season against the Patriots with 8 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown. With all the injuries at receiver, Stills has become the focal point of this passing game and remarkably has produced six touchdowns in just 32 receptions.
He came here from the Saints back in 2015 as primarily a long ball threat, but has become much more than that. Nine of Ryan Tannehill’s 19 passes last Sunday were directed toward Stills. One moment, though, he’d rather forget, a second-and-16 play in the fourth quarter where Stills slid to a stop after 15 yards, thinking he had reached the marker. A play later, Tannehill was sacked, the Dolphins were forced to punt and that led to a Patriots’ field goal and a 30-28 lead.
“My awareness was bad on that,” Stills said. “I figured I’d got the first down. I was trying to protect the ball.”
This explains why Stills fell to his knees in thanks when the Dolphins pulled off that dramatic final play touchdown. You never want to be the reason you lose a game, certainly a game of this magnitude.
“I was definitely relieved,” he said afterward.
Didn’t hurt any either that Stills played an important role in that final play, getting the pass from Tannehill and then lateraling to DeVante Parker. It’s a play they practiced so many times before. “Sometimes,” Stills says, “it is like, ‘Why are we doing this?’ And now we know why.”
You just know Stills will be relied upon heavily over these final three regular season games. He relishes that. Has been waiting much of his career for it. But he never complained when the ball didn’t come his way, always taking the high road, knowing deep down his chances would come.
“It’s all about winning games,” he says. “That’s always been my mindset.”
Truth is, Kenny Stills doesn’t need to win football games to be a winner. What he does off the field, how he embraces the community and all the lives he has touched has already made him the most impressive kind of winner, the kind that will never be judged by a scoreboard but instead by the smiles on people’s faces.