As a single mother of three, including two strapping boys who would go on to play college football, she struggled at times to make ends meet.
So of course, young Stephen couldn't understand it when he saw his mother taking what she had worked so hard for and giving it away. "We never had much," he remembers, "but she always gave things to others. I remember asking her, `Why are you giving it away when we need it?' and she would tell me that there was always somebody who needed it more."
His mother's attitude was something that Tulloch never forgot. Following his three-year All-ACC career at NC State, where he played on a squad that led the nation in total defense in 2004, Tulloch was a fourth-round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans. For his first two years in the NFL, his concentration was on making it in that tough league. In 2007, however, after he had solidified his standing on the squad, he began to look for ways to continue his mother's legacy.
"I realized that as an NFL player, I had an opportunity to help those who were at a disadvantage," he says, "So I started the Stephen Tulloch Foundation in Nashville. I wanted to give underprivileged youth the same opportunities to be successful that my mother gave me."
The mission statement of the foundation is to "provide underprivileged children the same opportunities as other children. Our goals are to supply them with the essentials to build self esteem and to be able to achieve their goals and unlock their potential."
His first step was to adopt a middle school in Tennessee, where he encouraged the kids to study hard and make good grades. He provided free dental checkups for many of those children. He fed 100 families one Thanksgiving. He started providing free football camps for kids back in his hometown. He started an annual Celebrity Softball Tournament every spring.
In 2011, Tulloch signed a deal with the Detroit Lions and his paycheck got a little bigger. This season, his second with the team, he is a team captain and is a recognizable figure in the Motor City. But instead of using that fame for his personal game, he's found a better use for it.
"People know me, so I can raise money," he says. "There is a lot of need in Detroit and I want to help any way I can."
Although the main purpose of his foundation is to help kids, he's expanded its role so that when he sees anybody with a need, he reaches out. T
his summer, Tulloch was on crutches following knee surgery when he heard about Ryan Kennedy, a nine-year-old boy in Michigan who was suffering from a rare form of brain cancer. He immediately traveled to Ryan's hometown, an hour away, hopped up three flights of stairs to get to Ryan's bedroom and spent the next two hours playing video games, talking about football and life with the brave youngster.
Ten days later, Ryan died, but he had a profound effect on Tulloch. September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, so he donated 55 (his jersey number) tickets to every Detroit home game to families with children affected by cancer.
When a local police officer was killed in the line of duty in Detroit, Tulloch invited his family and 55 officers to the Lions' next game. He has taken kids to movies, helped kids in foster homes, made sure that kids were provided with dental care. When a local family's house burned down, Tulloch helped provide for their needs.
"I set out to help underprivileged kids," he says, "but I really just want to help anybody."
Tulloch's spirit of giving back has caught on. A local sushi restaurant features the "Tulloch Roll," and donates proceeds from its sale to help his cause. Another place raises money with a "Linebacker Cupcake." Quicken Loans and Fathead have joined his fight, as well as other local and national businesses.
"There are so many ways and places to raise money and so many people who need it," he says.
Friday on the "Today" show, Tulloch's efforts will be featured in a segment entitled "Today's Extra Yard." The feature will be shown during the 8 a.m. segment. "The recognition is great," he says, "but only because it helps us raise more money to help more people."
For more information on Tulloch's career and his efforts to help those in need, log on to tulloch55.com.