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Terps' Tucker to try football --- and it was on his mind a while ago

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Well, here’s an interesting development (as first reported by the Diamondback) – Cliff Tucker has joined Maryland’s football team as a wide receiver. A school spokesman said Tucker practiced Tuesday.

The affable but inconsistent Tucker wrapped up his basketball career last month, one he acknowledged included too much time playing cautiously and fretting about the repercussions of a single miscue.  He hasn’t played football since high school, so anyone flat-out anticipating an immediate impact should probably keep their expectations in check.

Still, don’t think for a second this was too far from Tucker’s mind, particularly when he first got on campus.

Pardon, if you will, an interjection of some first-person commentary. Back in January 2008, I arranged a one-on-one interview with Tucker, since at the time he seemed like an intriguing variable and the most effective of Maryland’s five freshmen at the time. It was an engaging back-and-forth – a discussion of nearly 25 minutes – and we touched on plenty of topics.

Football came up quickly, and I planned to write something extensive about how he finally gave up one sport to concentrate on another. Yet a variety of things prevented me from having time to really sit down and cobble something together in the ensuing week or two. No matter; Maryland was rolling along nicely and Tucker was still effective. It seemed like a decent ACC tournament piece.

But then his minutes dropped. Then Tucker got sick. Then the Terps went into a slide and wound up destined for the NIT. The story never got written.

Tonight’s development got me thinking about that interview. And bizarrely enough, I never erased it (which is something that can happen when you carry a half-dozen digital recorders at all times). Never, it turns out, would there be a better time to recount that discussion than now.

Granted, it comes from a three-year-old interview. But it was clear then football meant quite a bit to Tucker. If he’s giving it a go now, it probably still does.

“To tell you the truth, football was kind of the No. 1 in high school,” Tucker said then. “Basketball is my first love. I learned that first. All the sudden, high school came and I became a dominant football player. I just loved playing the game and everything. I just fell in love with football a little bit more. Then I just sat down and thought to myself ‘I know I can’t do both.’ I knew it was kind of too tough. Basketball’s a lot longer career. In football, you get injured and things like that.”

Considering Tucker is 6-foot-6, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise he caught 19 touchdowns to go along with 939 receiving yards as a high school senior. And why not? He was likely to win any jump ball in the end zone with a defensive back, even in a football-rich state like Texas (Tucker attended high school in El Paso).

Big 12 schools such as Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M expressed interest. And someone else thought it would be a good idea to look into football, too.

“My mom, to this day, she still tells me I should have played football and tells me to try out for football,” Tucker said in that 2008 interview. “I thought about what it would be like if I played both, being a Maryland football player and a Maryland basketball player.”

At that point, I joked about what it would be like to see Gary Williams and Ralph Friedgen engage in a power struggle over a player. Tucker seemed amused at the thought. But he remained steadfast with references to people in his life who saw great things in his gridiron skills.

“My football coach, he swore up and down I could be an NFL football player,” Tucker said. “He tried so hard to get me to play football. He told me just to think about. I actually thought about it a lot. Like I said, I just sat down and decided I just wanted to play basketball.”

Tucker was primarily a wideout in high school, but he also logged some time at cornerback and returned kicks. When I asked if he went to any football games the previous fall, he smiled and acknowledged he was at a Thursday night game against West Virginia as well as a few others.

Considering Tucker didn’t settle on a college destination until April of his senior year and remained tied to both football and basketball, that had to have made for an intriguing state of mind. There was a guy who would wind up scoring 782 points in 131 career basketball games – though he was never a star, Tucker was a rotation fixture from beginning to end who missed only four games in his career – watching what could have been unfold right in front of him.

“I kind of pictured what it would be like if I was out there,” Tucker said then. “I kind of enjoyed it a little bit. … When they were scoring touchdowns, I was thinking about what it would be like if I could play in front of all these fans in this stadium.”

Maybe, just maybe, he’ll get that chance yet.

Patrick Stevens

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