As he made his way to Arrowhead Stadium Thursday afternoon, Blue Springs High School graduate and Kansas City Chiefs starting right tackle Donald Stephenson laughed out loud.
“Here I am, starting for the Kansas City Chiefs, in my hometown and we’re playing our first game after practicing this morning in St. Joe,” Stephenson said, punctuating the comment with a big grin.
“I smile a lot lately and laugh a lot, too. I’m living a dream. Not many people can say that, but I can. This is a dream come true and I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
Stephenson started the first quarter of the Chiefs’ entertaining 41-39 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in which rookie De’Anthony Thomas returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown and defensive backs Sean Smith (36 yards) and Malcolm Bronson (51 yards) gave the sparse crowd plenty to cheer about with two interception returns for touchdowns in a game in which special teams and defense provided 21 of the team’s 41 points.
“We’ll take those points any way we can,” said Stephenson, who lockers just a few stalls down from the men he’s paid to protect, quarterbacks Alex Smith and Chase Daniel.
In the past, his locker was part of a series of stalls in the middle/back of the locker room that was always congested with rookie traffic during the preseason.
This season, he’s lockering in the penthouse.
“It’s nice, it’s all nice – like I said, living a dream,” said Stephenson, who played in his first three games at Blue Springs High School, then suffered a broken toe and did not return until the playoffs.
The massive lineman transferred to Blue Springs from Kansas City’s Central High School. Before the start of his senior year, he benched 375 pounds and squatted 500 pounds and ran a five-second 40-yard dash. Stats like that caught the eye of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, and Stephenson went on to enjoy the type of success at Oklahoma that led to him being a third-round draft pick by the Chiefs in 2012.
“That seems like such a long time ago, but it really wasn’t that long ago,” Stephenson said, referring to his playing days at Blue Springs. “My family can come see me play, I’m playing for the team I cheered for when I was a kid. It’s all good.”
It was certainly “all good” for Thomas, who electrified the crowd with a Dante Hall-like 80-yard punt return from a touchdown to knot the score at 10-all.
“I was looking for a seam and I found it,” said Thomas, who was nicknamed the Black Mamba by legendary rapper and football fan Snoop Dogg when Thomas played in his youth football league.
“That’s not an urban legend, Snoop Dogg gave me the nickname and it stuck. I just want to make this team, help this team score points and be an impact player. Whatever it takes, I’m willing to do it.”
While everyone was talking about Thomas, his was one of several big plays as Smith and Bronson scored on a pair of pick sixes and tight end Travis Kelce closed out the half with a 69-yard touchdown reception from Daniel.
“I feel a lot more comfortable with Andy (Reid’s) offense the second year,” said Daniel, who starred at the University of Missouri and won a Super Bowl as a backup to Drew Brees with the New Orleans Saints.
“It’s just an exhibition game, but it’s good to win and good to get some big plays. People ask about my personal goals this season and I got into every year with only one goal, winning a championship.”