National Rank at K: 6
An Inside Texas conversation with Westlake head coach Derek Long on Justin Tucker:
Inside Texas: Let's start out with just your general impression of Justin Tucker.
Derek Long: I think one big thing, and you might not always think about it in a kicker, is he's always competitive. Sometimes, I think, kickers are over on the side, doing their thing, but through his high school career Justin is one who's wanted to be involved in everything. His junior year he started on defense for us, plus doing the kicking chores, and this past year he started on offense. So you've got a guy who's athletic and competitive. He likes being out there.
IT: What roles did he play in for you on offense and defense?
Long: He was a defensive back on defense and on offense he played wide receiver for us.
IT: So he can run.
Long: Yes. You worry about having your kicker out there running around all the time and just to give you an idea of how good he is, I guess, is when we played Reagan in the play-off game, it was third down and he runs a pattern and the ball was thrown his direction, it was incomplete. We line up for a field goal and it's a 49-yard field goal and he's been running routes all through that sequence and had the wind in his face and he nails it. It's going to be interesting to see how good he is when he is rested and hasn't been trying to catch balls all over the field.
IT: Some of the other guys in Texas' recruiting class have been talking him up after they saw what he could do in San Antonio (at the U.S. Army All-American Game). They're not just talking about him on the field, either. D.J. Monroe talked a lot about how good of a guy he is and the connection they made.
Long: That's the kind of kid he is. He's outgoing, he's got a lot of confidence and you've got to have that in that position. Another thing about him is he's real dedicated. Some guys will go out and pop the ball around and kind of mess around but he is dedicated about getting better, learning new things. He's probably one of the few kickers in the country, including NFL and college, that can do the onside kick where you top it and pop it up high.
IT: So that there's no possibility of a fair catch.
Long: Right and you pop it, it's tough to handle. Against Reagan, he kicked a perfect one and we had a shot at getting an onside kick. That's one of those things that takes a lot of skill and a lot of kickers can't do that.
IT: Was there kind of an epiphany moment some time early in his high school career when you realized, 'Wow, I've got a really good kicker on my hands here'?
Long: Well I think he just improved every year. We've had some good kickers in the past come through here and we expect to have good kickers, but this past season was a season that will spoil you because out of 60 kick-offs, he might have had three or four that they returned. I mean they're in the endzone or out the back of the endzone. You know, as a coach, to know that they're going to be starting on the 20 yard line instead of possibility the 30, 35, 40, whatever, that is a great weapon to have.
IT: Made kick coverage the easiest job on the team.
Long: Yeah it is. You work on it just like they're going to return it, but I mean you know if it's a still day, they're not going to return it and even if there's a little wind into it there were times he kick it and they didn't return it. It's a good weapon to have.
IT: At his Signing Day press conference, when Mack Brown was showing film on all the guys, pretty much every clip he showed of Justin was him kicking the ball out the back of the endzone over and over and over.
Long: And through the goalpost. I know some people were saying at that Army All-American Game, he didn't look that good kicking them off, but they told him, 'We want to let them return. Let them return.'
IT: They wanted players to be able to show off on return because it was an all-star game.
IT: So he was actually pulling his kicks a little bit on those kick-offs?
Long: Yeah. I don't know if it's a just a little bit or a lot, but I fully expect him at the college level to be putting them in the endzone.
IT: Even with that extra distance?
Long: Yeah. The other area he developed was, as a sophomore and junior he wasn't the punter. But for his senior year we said, 'Hey, you need to be punting too, so you need to work on it.' He really did a great job. I mean, he averaged 40 yards, but he has a real ability to put it inside the 20, angle kicks. So that's a whole area that if he works on that it may open up for him at UT.
IT: So that's something, if he worked on, he could develop at the collegiate level?
Long: Yup and he's got the leg for it.
IT: Was he a team leader? Because 'leader' is not something that's typically associated with kickers.
Long: Yeah, he was. Again, it goes back to him liking to be involved. He wanted to be on the field. He, obviously, was out there on defense and he played this year on offense and he would have gone both ways if we'd figured out how to do it. He had a lot of respect of the players because they saw that passion for the game and that desire to be on the field and not just kicking, but helping out the team as a receiver and making plays.
IT: What would you say his main strengths are as a kicker going to the collegiate level? The standards are going to be ratcheted up. What are the main strengths he's going to be bringing?
Long: Well, I think he has a good mental frame of mind for a kicker. I think you could probably put the ball down for a field goal anywhere and he thinks he's going to make it. It's kind of confidence, but it's also that mental state of mind. Wednesday workouts during the season, the last thing we do before we run sprints is we kick field goals. We start at the 15 and move back and it got pretty regular on Wednesdays that we'd get back to 55, 57 yards and maybe 60. He obviously didn't make all of them, but he made some of those kicks and he was in the ballpark on the rest. We probably could have kept moving back and he would have still thought he could make it. I think that's one of the things that stands out.
IT: How does he react to a miss?
Long: Disappointed like anyone else. He seems to get upset at himself, but I think at the same time he examines and tries to evaluate what went wrong so at his next opportunity it won't happen again.
IT: What do you think he needs to improve the most if he's going to make that jump to the next level?
Long: Um...he's pretty skinny. [Laughter] Maybe y'all will feed him better down there are UT. Probably just improve on size and that'll help him get strength. That's probably the only thing. I know he's going to keep working on his distance and his accuracy. So that might be the only area that stands out to me.
IT: Are there any wrapping up comments you'd like to make about him as a person, as a football player?
Long: He's a fine young man and it's been a real pleasure working with him here in the program. Like you said, he's been a leader, but he's also a fun guy. One day during two-a-days, in two-a-days you can get that extreme heat, you give the players an opportunity for a break. We have these three sprints we run at the end of workout that are basically 200-yard sprints and I told them if they could come up with a song, then I'd take off one of those sprints if it was good enough. He jumped up and they all got together and they did that song from Remember the Titans, the old soul song ('Ain't No Mountain High Enough'). They jumped up and he led it and it was great. He's got a fun-loving side and he really enjoys that game. That's what you want to see in these young men, guys that enjoy the game. Those are the guys that have the best chance of being successful and Justin is one of those guys.
Tucker (top) celebrates at the U.S. Army All-American Game with future teammates (clockwise from Tucker) Monroe, Dan Buckner and David Snow (Photo: Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)
Also see: Justin Tucker: 'I always knew...'
UT Signing Day Bio: Prep All-American and all-district performer ... played in the 2008 U.S. Army All-American Bowl ... ranked as the third-best place-kicker in the nation by ESPN ... three-year letterman as a place-kicker ... made 30-of-44 FG attempts and 155-of-162 PAT attempts during his career ... a versatile athlete who also saw action at cornerback, free safety and wide receiver ... tabbed one of the state's Top 10 kickers by Dave Campbell's Texas Football ... named third-team 5A all-state by the Texas Sports Writers Association and first-team all-district 25-5A at place-kicker as a senior ... connected on 10-of-15 FGs and 40-of-40 PATs ... also tallied eight receptions for 185 yards and two TDs ... earned first-team all-district honors as a junior ... helped Westlake advance to the 5A Div. I state championship game by connecting on 11-of-16 FGs and 67-of-71 PATs ... also recorded 45 tackles and scored on a 65-yard INT return ... went 3-of-3 on FGs, 2-of-2 PATs and kicked off five times (66.7 ypk) against Southlake Carroll in the 5A Div. I state championship game ... connected on 9-of-13 FGs and 48-of-51 PATs as a sophomore ... also was a two-year letterwinner and starter in soccer ... Born 11/21/89 in Houston ... full name is Justin Tucker ... moved to Austin when he was three ... a prep honor student ... a three-time academic all-district performer ... earned first-team academic all-state honors as a senior ... participated in Relay for Life, a cancer awareness and fundraising project ... grandfather, Paul Tucker Sr., played linebacker at Alabama ... parents, Paul and Michelle, both graduated from UT ... sister, Nicole, is currently a sophomore at Texas ... enjoys playing video games, ping pong and singing.
Up next: Luke Poehlmann