A smile grows on Zac Stacy’s face when you ask him about his younger brother Justin.
Justin is the Rider running back’s younger brother. He has Down Syndrome – not that it slows him down any – so Stacy has made it his mission to show the rest of the world Justin is just like everyone else.
Stacy is an athletic ambassador for the National Down Syndrome Society in the United States and it has become a big part of his life. By joining, his focus is to help reduce the stigma and raise awareness about the genetic disorder.
“(Justin) has a label as Down Syndrome, but he’s just a regular kid to me. He does little brother things,” Stacy said after practice on Wednesday.
“Anytime I’m home he follows me around everywhere I go, every time I work out he’s there with me, spotting me, every time I jog around the block he’s right there jogging with me.”
From the love between the two brothers Zac Stacy’s All Star Clinic was born. It’s a football clinic held exclusively for children with Down Syndrome and the youth who attend, get to run football drills and play the game alongside college football players and NFL professionals.
It was hosted at Stacy’s former college Vanderbilt University and he estimates 75 to 80 children were there from all over the country.
“It was more than I expected,” Stacy said. “The event turned out great, we had a lot of impact. There was one family that came down from Ohio all the way to Tennessee so that just goes to show how impactful the organization is,” he said, adding he hopes to make it an annual event.
Though perhaps no one enjoyed it as much as Stacy’s own brother Justin.
“He was the guy at camp that was on my hip following me wherever I go. He got to run some football drills with the guys. He had a blast,” Stacy said.
Stacy held the event just two weeks before he decided to come out of retirement and join the Roughriders at training camp.
He did so with the full support of his little brother.
“He’s definitely my why. He’s the reason I do the things I do out there — on the field and off the field — because I know he’s going to be proud of me,” Stacy said.
Returning to the game
Stacy had been out of football for a full year. He struggled with some injuries and also some “mental demons” but, before his retirement Stacy spent time in the NFL, including a nearly 1,000 yard season with St. Louis Rams. In college he had back-to-back seasons with more 1,100 yards.
After taking some time off and “getting his mind back right” Stacy decided it was time to return to football and that’s when Roughriders general manager and head coach Chris Jones came calling with an offer that was hard to refuse.
“Coach Jones did a good job of blowing up my phone week in and week out,” laughed Stacy.
The two set up a work out. Jones liked what he saw and Stacy wanted to get back on the football field.
“I’m passionate about the game so for me it was more so about getting back into football ASAP – as soon as possible – and I got an opportunity from these guys and I just hopped on it.”
The Roughriders added Jerome Messam in the offseason and it’s widely believed he’ll start at running back this season. However, with Cameron Marshall getting released Sunday and Marcus Thigpen suspended for two games for using performance enhancing drugs, Stacy might just have an inside edge on a roster spot.
Stacy feels like he’s fitting in well and he’s getting the hang of the Canadian game in large part because of the support he’s been getting from the other running backs. And Jones is happy with the work he’s put in so far as well.
“Zac’s a good player, a solid guy,” Jones said. “He’s been not only just a good player but he’s been one of those guys you can depend on, week in and week out … and that’s kind of what we’re looking for.”
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