Football is something very special to Gary Tucker.
It gives him teammates he spends his days with, coaches to lead and mold him into a better man and a game to play that he loves unconditionally.
The Middle Tennessee State University senior was the starting defensive tackle for the Blue Raiders this season, amassing 28 tackles, four of them for lost yardage.
Tucker was part of three Maryville High School state championship teams, earning BlueCross Bowl Defensive Most Valuable Player honors in the 2004 title game. In 2005, the All-State offensive/defensive tackle helped Maryville to back-to-back, unblemished, 15-0 seasons.
While wins were bountiful under the tutelage of Maryville coach George Quarles and his Rebel coaching staff, Tucker said he learned more than just Xs and Os.
“They did a great job of preparing us to be a man, about always being truthful and being honest,” Tucker said. “Coach Quarles would always press character. Character is what you do when no one else is watching and that really stuck with me.”
Tucker’s ability to stick with it and finish what he started at MTSU is the thing most prized by his former coach.
“I’m proud of Gary for sticking around,” said Quarles, who directed the Rebels to a record-tying 12th state championship last weekend in Cookeville. “Maryville High School kids have, at times, had a hard time sticking at schools. Gary has gone to Middle and stuck there, and it looks like he’ll get his degree. I think he’s a success story.”
A running back with the freshman team at Maryville, Tucker was starting on both sides of the ball up front by his senior season. Drawing praise from Rebel line coach David Ellis for his ability to “play behind his pads,” Tucker was one of three finalists for Class AAA Mr. Football during the 2005 title run.
“He was physical; he was powerful, very athletic,” Quarles said. “He was probably the best defensive lineman we’ve ever had inside.”
Tucker said appreciates the opportunity college football has given him and works hard every day to take full advantage of it.
“In college you do get paid,” he said. “They pay for your school; they pay for your books; and to be rewarded like that we have to do exactly what the coaches want, and just do the right thing.”
Senior day at MTSU’s Floyd Stadium last month was a difficult one for Tucker, sidelined with a concussion and forced to watch his teammates fight their way to a 38-14 victory over Florida Atlantic without him.
“It really was hard to go out there and watch my teammates,” Tucker said. “It was really tough for me to go out there, but the guys were uplifting me the whole time. I really appreciate that from my teammates and it’s good to have them, but most importantly I’m glad we got the win.”
For many players on the mid-major level, professional football is not a realistic option, but Tucker feels it may be for him.
“I like what I’m seeing right now,” he said. “That’s what I love to do. That’s my passion, to go the NFL and play football. I would love it.
“I love being around the team and the atmosphere. Sometimes, when you only have your team, you only have your staff around, it helps you get away. It helps you with whatever is going on in your life”
After his playing days are over, Tucker said hopes to take what he has learned at MTSU on the field and in the classroom to become a high school football coach.
“Coaching is something that I feel can help me be who I want to be and do what I want to do in this life,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind working under coach Quarles. I think he could help me out”
As a Rebel, Tucker displayed the people skills that would serve him well in the coaching ranks, Quarles said.
“If he wants to, he’s definitely got some clout,” he said. “He’s definitely got the experience, so people will listen to him.”