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To protect and to serve

Adam Stafford grew up in Shelbyville. Went to school at Shelbyville High School. Nearly dropped out midway through his senior year.

The choice to finish high school and become the first in his family to do so altered his life forever. Now a veteran officer of the Shelbyville police department, Stafford spends countless hours devoting time to making his community better – some days just one kid at a time.

Football is his passion and with a son still growing and getting stronger, he revels in coaching a sport he never excelled at.

“I love football. I would coach football full time if I could,” said Stafford, who admitted to never being more than a junior varsity level player for the Golden Bears.

Football gave him purpose, though. Enough so to follow all the program’s rules for four years. And when his playing career was over, he was ready to walk away from his educational track. That’s when longtime Shelbyville High School football coach Pat Parks chastised him for even considering quitting. He had done enough to graduate, he just needed to cross the finish line.

Stafford did so in 2002 and enlisted in the Army reserves. After his military commitment ended, he returned home and found factory jobs he didn’t like, but it kept him occupied until something better came along.

Ironically, Stafford found a career at the one place he avoided by finishing high school and joining the Army – the Shelby County Jail.

“I worked at the jail for four years before I was hired on by the county as a sheriff deputy,” he said. Four days later he and another just-hired deputy were let go with no explanation. Stafford was out of work with a wife and newborn son to care for and unsure what came next.

“I went from there to Knauf ... a great company that really took care of me and helped me get my life back on track because I went from being on top of the mountain, I had reached my goal in life and can’t believe I’m here, to just having a baby, no life insurance or money and was about to be evicted. Working there picked me up and got me back to where I needed to be in life mentally, emotionally and physically.”

One year later, Knauf officially laid him off on what turned out to be his first day with the Shelbyville police department. Now he is a Field Training Officer (FTO) for the department, preparing new hires for their role in his community.

“When I had my first interview (for the department), I said in five years I want to be an FTO,” said Stafford. “I want to help people. By helping these policemen, I can make a bigger impact on the community. I can leave my touch on them. They see how I can handle myself, how I handle my business.”

Now with a 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, Stafford is highly visible in the community around their activities.

“I’m really lucky because ... our police department wants us going to our kids’ games,” he said. “They want us to be out in the community, to be out watching the softball games, to be out at the baseball fields, they want people to see you as a person. I’m able to work and go to their games. And if something happens and I have to leave, the kids understand that. I try really hard to be there for them and my job is a big supporter of me doing those kinds of things.”

In his son, Anthony, he has a physically-gifted football player who already stands almost five feet, six inches tall and understands hard work is the way to achieve his dream of playing football at the University of Notre Dame. But it’s not his own prodigy that makes the team Stafford coaches so special.

“My fifth-grade team I’m coaching, I wouldn’t trade this team for any team I’ve ever had in any sport I’ve ever coached,” he said. “The parents are awesome ... they’re on board. The bring me the mid-terms, they bring me the report cards and we talk about the grades. They call me if there are problems with the kids at home. We all work together. We’re like a big family.

“And the kids look out for each other at practice. I don’t have to say a word and I look over and all of our helmets are lined up on the sideline facing the same direction looking nice because that’s what they’ve done.”

Because he was not a superior athlete in high school, Stafford can relate to kids that struggle on the field. That means they get every chance to make an impression – just as Stafford did as a Golden Bear.

“I was terrible,” he reiterated. “My sophomore year I played offensive line – I was a 115-pound tackle. I played defensive end, outside linebacker, corner, safety, tight end, receiver. I tell people I was not a good football player but I do know a lot about a lot. I know the responsibilities of all these different positions and that helps me with coaching.

“It also helps me when they struggle. I was not athletic. I was not a super athlete. I needed to listen and do what I was told because if I didn’t I would fail miserably and look really stupid out here. Instead of coaching the athletes that I have, I coach the effort they give me opposed to focusing on my three best athletes at quarterback, running back and running back. I will judge you on the effort you give me at practice.”

That same experience growing up an undersized athlete within a family that struggled to make ends meet has also helped him in his career.

“I think coming from where I come from helps me do what I do,” said Stafford. “I can relate to a lot of people. This is where I’m comfortable. This is what I grew up with.”

And that message gets driven home with the kids he coaches and their parents.

“I tell the kids all the time you can make excuses for how your home life is ... the reality is you can’t change that,” he said. “What will determine where you go in life is the decisions you make. I became a cop. Why? That’s what I wanted to do. I set my feet to the ground, drove my feet and got where I wanted to go. Anybody can do it. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”

Stafford fully understands that police officers need to be seen in their community as role models – and he welcomes the responsibility.

“The best part about my job is I get to drive around and I can get out and play basketball with kids,” said Stafford with a smile. “I got out yesterday and played touch football with some kids. That’s awesome. I love that. I get to impact my own community and that’s what I enjoy. There are the kids I see everyday at practice and the kids I see at work. I get to intermingle with the two. It’s a healthy drive to want to go help those kids, not just on the football field but at home.

“I get to meet kids that are at Morrison Park playing football and don’t have family at home and I get to talk to those kids. For me, the football team was my family growing up. That’s what kept me out of drugs. That was my safe place after school – the football field.”

Stafford and his wife, Amber, have a son, Anthony, who is entering the fifth grade at Loper Elementary School, and a daughter, Arianna, who will be in third grade at Loper.

Stafford was recently selected as The Shelbyville News Celebrity of the Month, chosen from an online poll on the newspaper’s Facebook page.

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