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Childhood obstacles push St. Augustine football standout Dequan Stanley to succeed

Daniel Bien-Aime
Special to The St. Augustine Record

Dequan Stanley and his brother Darius couldn't find their mother.

Darius was 10. Dequan was 8. They were living in Jacksonville. They had walked from Long Branch Elementary. When they got home, they discovered they were locked out.

Dequan Stanley, St. Augustine High School. December 2020.

That long-ago day was a turning point for the brothers. The start of the deterioration of their relationship with their mother was also the beginning of their journey to athletic and academic success at St. Augustine High School.

More:10 Players to Watch in St. Johns County: Dequan Stanley

Dequan Stanley, 19, will help lead the Yellow Jackets into the Class 6A state semifinal contest at Lake Minneola. He has been a two-way star at wide receiver and cornerback as the Jackets make their first state semifinal appearance since 2017.

He has produced in football, basketball and track. He has a career total of 923 yards receiving along with 10 touchdowns. He also earned an All-County second-team selection in basketball during his junior year after averaging 8.6 points and 4.3 rebounds for a team that won a district title.

The 5-foot-10, 160-pound senior's football efforts have landed a scholarship to the University of South Florida. The road to Tampa, though, has been filled with enough adversity that might have wilted many children.

St. Augustine High receiver Dequan Stanley makes a catch in the second quarter against Lynn Haven Mosley on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020.

Stanley's efforts — and the efforts of his late grandmother Betty Stanley and aunt Brittany Stanley — are what he says helped save his and his brother's lives.

Dequan and Darius realized, as children, that mom Marquita Stanley was losing in her struggles with substance abuse. The addictions were becoming profound, they said.

And it led to neglect.

“The electric and water bill wasn’t getting paid for, so we were kind of in an empty house,” Darius Stanley, 21, said in a phone interview. He was a standout lineman for St. Augustine and a 2018 graduate. He lives and works in Tennessee after getting hurt playing junior college football in New York state.

More:Darius Stanley and St. Augustine’s explosive defensive line has met every challenge

On the day they were locked out, the brothers searched for their mother. They couldn't find her. With nowhere to go, they ended up at a bus stop and sat there for hours.

Dequan fell asleep as they waited. Darius saw a cousin, Victoria White.

“She didn’t even know we were there," Darius said. "We spotted her, and I had to run to her and was like, ‘Hey!’ We didn’t know where anybody was at.”

Most of family members knew of their mother’s struggles. Once they got White’s  attention, she asked, “Where's your mama?”

Able to look back and laugh

Talking about his childhood earlier this week, Dequan Stanley was surrounded by a few of his family members. Aunt Brittany laughed when describing her nephew.

“Dequan likes to play a lot,” she said. Stanley looked at his aunt and asked with a smile, “Is it about that?”

Everyone else joined in as Stanley playfully snuck away. “Where you going Day Day?” she said, using a nickname.

Brittany Stanley shared memories about Dequan when he was younger. One was when he was running around the house while swinging a belt like a cowboy. The buckle hit a chandelier and shattered it. Another was from a time Dequan didn’t feel like walking down the stairs. Instead, he tried to slide down the steps but flew into a wall and made a big hole.

The memories speak to Stanley's playful nature. It's easy to laugh now. It wasn't when the boys were struggling to find a home.

They lived with White until she couldn’t care for them. The Florida Department of Children and Families was notified, but they were able to move in with their grandmother before they were placed in the foster system.

Betty Stanley provided stability living. She worked at The Webster School. Teachers gave him more attention. Dequan Stanley had a place to live and his experiences in school improved.

In Jacksonville, he fought against learning because of his tumultuous environment.

“I was never in school because of the situation I was in,” Stanley said. “I'd come in, and I wouldn't learn anything. I would be distracted, and I barely got the learning that I should have.”

Basketball? Dequan Stanley can star in basketball, too.

But that stability didn't last, because Betty Stanley was diagnosed with liver cancer. The brothers watched her suffer. They didn't understand she had a terminal illness, but they knew something was wrong. Betty Stanley died March 16, 2011.  

“When she died, I didn’t shed a tear and I didn’t want to accept it. But when it dawned on me two years ago, I broke down and called my big brother. He was like, ‘I knew this was going to happen eventually,’” Stanley said. “After I broke down, I started looking at life differently by being more appreciative.” 

Stanley visits his grandmother’s grave at the Evergreen Cemetery if he needs to clear his mind.

Adoption leads to a new life

Brittany Stanley adopted the brothers. She created the family atmosphere Stanley longed for. She treated him and his brother like her own. She became a stable maternal figure, removing worries no child should have to face.

She allowed Stanley to be a child again.

She signed up the brothers to play football for the St. Augustine Saints, a local youth team, and it helped cultivate the beginning of their football careers.

She rarely missed a game, even if she could only attend for a half because of work.

The Stanley brothers received the one thing they needed, a consistent parental figure who gave them a long-term, happy household.

The brothers said they have a very limited relationship with their birth mother, who has recovered from her addictions and still lives in Jacksonville. They said they have a non-existent relationship with their father.

“Lord knows where I would be without my auntie,” Stanley said. “I'm very grateful because she didn't have to do what she did.”

Dequan Stanley, left, is also a mainstay for the St. Augustine High track team.

Without his aunt, he probably wouldn't be committed to USF.  

Stanley occasionally flips through the stack of green-and-gold football letters from his future college coaches. His excitement talking about playing for the Bulls is palpable.

He doesn't know if he will play offense or defense.  

“They keep saying I’m going to be like a threat. I don't know what that means,” Stanley said. “I like both of them. But if I was to pick, I'd probably play defense.”

Stanley plans to major in business, because he’s intrigued about the possibility of owning a road and highway construction company after he’s done with football.

Whatever the future holds, he knows that he has a family to support him.

Dequan Stanley at a glance

School: St. Augustine

Position: WR/DB/KR

Height: 5-10

Weight: 160

INSIDE: St. Augustine visits Lake Minneola in state semifinal, 1B