It was hard to make out the name on the top of the card. Was it Dean Rucker or Deon Rucker? After finding the player in question, he spelled it out for me. "D-R-E-A-N," he said. "Sounds like Deon but with an ‘R.'" I think I made a comment about Deion Sanders and how his name was spelled and let the young man continue with his drills.
This exchange took place at the 2002 Nike Football Training Camp at USC. Rucker had attended the camp with Canyon Springs High teammate Christian Bass and the duo were among the most impressive of the day. Christian measured 6-2, 194 pounds with a 4.37 in the 40, a 34-inch vertical and 4.03 shuttle.
After the camp, Rucker and Bass were singled out by our staff for interviews and extra photo shoots. And the next week, as they say, the recruiting prospects for both players started to shoot off the charts. Rucker went on to have a stellar 2002 season, earning first team all-state honors, and gained a scholarship to USC.
All of that this week, however, is completely forgotten as news broke of Rucker's presumed drowning off the coast of Huntington Beach. On Monday evening, he was in the water with a friend about 30 minutes before dark after eating a barbecue dinner on the beach. Huntington Beach supervisor of lifeguards Mike Broussard told the Riverside County Press-Enterprise that Rucker may have stepped into a deep hole and gotten into trouble with the dangerous riptides. An unidentified man, described in press reports as fully clothed, jumped in to help Rucker as well as his friend. Neither were successful and the man had to be eventually rescued after being dropped a flotation device from a helicopter.
During the day on Tuesday, word began to leak that Rucker was the one being searched for. Family and friends remained at the beach and said they weren't going to leave any time soon.
Said DeWayne White, uncle of the victim, to the Press Enterprise: "We're keeping an open mind that Drean is still alive and we will be waiting for him. We've been here two days and we'll be here 10 days until he walks up to us or someone brings him to us."
USC football coach Pete Carroll had no comment, except that the players and coaches had Rucker's family in their hearts and prayers. It's possible the incoming freshman was going to see significant playing time this season for the Trojans.
Rucker's presumed drowning brings to mind several other recent tragedies, including the death last year of football running back Daniel Teicheira from Sierra of Manteca (because I met him, too) and the death two months ago of University of Pittsburgh wide receiver Billy Gaines (who also was launched by performing well at a Nike camp). I also recall the drowning death 10 years ago of Concord De La Salle defensive back Chris Vontoure, who would have been one of the nation's top recruits in the Class of 1994.