Tucker matures into a force for Co-LinPublished 1:00pm Tuesday, August 19, 2014
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WESSON – Google will tell you that roughly 12.5 miles separate the campuses of Hazlehurst High School and Copiah-Lincoln Community College. Getting from one to the other should be a quick and easy journey. Co-Lin student-athlete Demond Tucker, a former Hazlehurst Indian, is living proof that sometimes that trip isn’t always quick and isn’t always easy.
Growing up, football wasn’t always the first love for Tucker. His interests were more in the halftime show than in the game. He was involved in band and could see himself as drum major at a SWAC school one day. However, the football coaches were persistent and Tucker blossomed into a football player in high school. Tucker was an important piece of the revitalization of Hazlehurst football under former coach Randal Montgomery, but he still felt slighted when it came to his college recruitment.
“Not a lot of schools were interested in me and I don’t even know if I would have gotten a chance to play at Co-Lin if my family hadn’t known Coach (Calvin) Green,” said Tucker. Green, a long-time Co-Lin assistant football coach, recruits Hazlehurst for the Wolfpack.
Tucker admits that his attitude wasn’t the best when he arrived in Wesson, and that affected his play on the field and his work in the classroom. An injury soon after arriving on campus didn’t help matters either.
“Demond got injured when he first got here. His ankle was bothering him, and he couldn’t stay healthy,” said Co-Lin head coach Glenn Davis.
When the roster had to be cut down to 55 men before the 2012 season opener, Tucker was a casualty of the numbers game. The Wolfpack defense primarily used a four-man front. There was no place for an undersized nose tackle that stayed hurt and didn’t apply himself in the classroom.
“I really didn’t know if I would ever get the chance to play,” said Tucker. “I was depressed, and it was probably as low as I’ve ever felt. My grandmother passed away around that time, and I made a vow that if I ever got another opportunity, I would make the most of it.”
Tucker began to apply himself in the classroom to show the coaches that he was serious about changing. He used pick-up football games and lifting sessions in the student fitness center to stay in shape. The coaching staff had promised him another look in the spring, after the season was over.
The 2012 season ended up being a historical one for Co-Lin. The Wolves won their first state championship since 1985. The coaching staff used that momentum to sign a talented recruiting class. Tucker would have to work even harder to secure a spot on the team in 2013.
The spring of 2013 saw turnover on the Co-Lin coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Larry Williams left for Hinds Community College. He was replaced by Otis Yelverton. Yelverton schemed his defense more towards a three-man defensive line. For his defense to be successful, he needed a nose tackle who could command the middle of the field. Yelverton knew he had found his man the first time he saw Tucker on the practice field.
“This kid can play for me, that’s the first thing I thought when I saw him,” said Yelverton. “Someone told me he got cut the year before, I told them he didn’t have to worry about getting cut again.”
Tucker realized that he had earned the trust of Yelverton, but he still had not played a down of college football.
“The biggest thing for Demond was staying healthy,” said Co-Lin head coach Glenn Davis. “We thought he could do some things with the way Coach Yelverton likes to set his defense, but we had never seen him stay healthy.”
Tucker stayed healthy through the nine-game season for Co-Lin and produced in a way that his coaches couldn’t have imagined.
The former roster casualty contributed 53 total tackles. His 13 sacks were the third highest total in the NJCAA. He had 14.5 tackles for a loss and one interception. His style of play was relentless, bordering on psychotic.
“People just get tired of blocking him,” said Yelverton. “He just keeps coming at you.”
“There were times last year where we had to pull him out early and let him catch his wind,” said Davis. “He would come out so worked up that early on he was blowing himself out.”
The awards came rolling in after a 7-2 season in which Co-Lin finished 11th in the final NJCAA poll. He was named Most Valuable Defensive Lineman in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC), First Team All-MACJC, First Team National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) All-Region 23 and First Team NJCAA All-American. His greatest honor came when he was named 2013 Spalding NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year.
Tucker knows that the burden is now to prove that his success was no fluke. Yelverton knows that there will be no sneaking up on anyone in 2014 for Tucker.
“He’s going to have a target on his back as a sophomore,” said Yelverton. “He’s been working on improving his hand movements and pacing himself so that he can be more consistent.”
Tucker is being recruited by Ole Miss, Iowa State, Kansas, Southern Miss and Middle Tennessee among other schools. He’s aware that his journey still has a way to go. “I’m not done,” said Tucker. “I’ve still got a lot to prove to myself and to prove to the people who doubted me. I’m still hungry.”
Co-Lin and Tucker open their season on Aug. 28 when they host Itawamba at 7 p.m. in Stone Stadium in Wesson.