‘Not an Overnight Sensation’ – How Israel Tucker continues to provide spark to Louisiana Tech’s backfield
Finding ways to win a football game isn’t always a simple equation, especially in an ugly way over a conference opponent.
Louisiana Tech’s offense mustered just 210 yards of total offense in Saturday’s Homecoming victory over UTEP. Following LA Tech’s eighth straight home victory, head coach Skip Holtz jokingly ripped his post-game stat sheet in half, signaling the Bulldogs were on to the next week.
Holtz did at least have one offensive “first” to smile about – Israel Tucker’s first two-touchdown performance in a LA Tech uniform.
“The progress that he’s made and the growth that he’s had – I’m just so proud of him,” Holtz said. “Certainly, Israel Tucker is not an overnight sensation.”
Tucker, better known as “Izzy” in the LA Tech locker room, enters his fifth season with the Bulldogs. The redshirt senior has shown off his explosive speed and quickness before, including a 26-yard dash to the end zone off a screen pass in Tech’s shutout win over Miami in this past season’s Independence Bowl.
Tucker’s journey in the Bulldogs’ backfield, however, hasn’t been easy. The Metairie, Louisiana native suffered an ACL tear as a junior at Archbishop Rummel High School, forcing him to miss out on his full junior season. Tucker rehabbed and then delivered a stellar senior season, rushing for almost 1,000 yards and registering nearly 500 receiving yards as Archbishop Rummel finished as the state runner-up.
The running back arrived in Ruston in 2016 ready to make an early impact, but on the first day of fall camp, Tucker once again tore his ACL. This time it came while wearing shorts in a non-contact drill.
“It was hard because when you’re a freshman you want to come in and contribute to the team in any way possible,” Tucker said. “It was really hard, especially it being the first day.
“I didn’t get to show the team or the coaches what I could do, but being here I had friends who were there for me. We talk about the Brotherhood all the time, and they were really there with me along the way.”
Before the freshman underwent season-ending surgery, strength and conditioning coach Kurt Hester encouraged Tucker and helped him safely build up strength to trim his post-surgery recovery time.
Tucker made his LA Tech debut the next season against Mississippi State, finishing the year with 91 total yards as a redshirt freshman. While Tucker did not receive much playing time, one of his mentors and close friends, Boston Scott, led the way for the Bulldogs with 1,047 rushing yards and 1,411 all-purpose yards.
Scott and former Tech running backs Jarred Craft and Jaqwis Dancy helped guide Tucker throughout their respective times in Ruston. Scott, who now plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, still keeps up with his former college teammate.
“He was a big brother when I got here,” Tucker said. “I listen to him, ask him for advice, anything I have a question about I’ll ask him about it. I’m comfortable talking to him about those things.”
In 2018, Tucker had an expanded role in Tech’s rushing attack, making five starts and carrying the ball 95 times for 377 yards and three touchdowns. The year also marked the beginning of fellow redshirt senior Justin Henderson’s career in Ruston.
Due to another injury, this time a nagging high-ankle sprain, Tucker was sidelined for parts of 2019. Henderson led the way for the Bulldogs a season ago, rushing for a team-high 1,062 rushing yards on 188 carries. With both running backs healthy at the same time in 2020, the duo is ready to lead both on and off the field.
“Every year I’ve been here the running backs have been close, and this group here, Justin, Greg [Garner] and even the younger guys, we’re all close,” Tucker said. “Me being that older guy now is just about helping them out, and Justin and I help each other out during practice, during film and in every chance we get because everybody wants to be great.
“Coach [Brock] Hays likes to leave it up to us, Justin and me, the two seniors.”
Aside from his growth on the field, Tucker has represented Louisiana Tech well off of it, too. Tucker was named to the C-USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll in 2017, but he also represented the Bulldogs in another way in late May and early June – serving as Tech’s representative in Conference USA’s Esports Challenge.
Athletes from each of the C-USA’s 14 programs represented their schools in Madden NFL 20 in a single-elimination tournament. Tucker breezed through the first two rounds of the tournament, defeating UTEP’s Isaiah Bravo 42-17 in the first round and Rice’s Kebreyun Page 42-0 in the second round. The semifinals against UTSA’s SaVion Harris provided the Madden guru a tougher challenge, but Tucker pulled out a close 21-16 victory while playing with the Seattle Seahawks.
The finals, however, did not go Tucker’s way as Old Dominion’s Eric Kumah jumped out to a 23-6 halftime lead. Despite running one of his favorite “schemes” in the game with a variety of deep post patterns, Tucker fell in the championship game 31-6.
Even though Tucker said he should’ve run the ball more in the final game, he said he still holds the title of best Madden player on the Tech football team.
“I think I’m the best,” Tucker said with a smile. “A lot of people on the team can say that. If you ask somebody on the team who do you think is the best Madden player, they’re going to mention my name.”
Tucker’s on-field production, leadership and “great personality” has helped him become a vital leader in the Louisiana Tech football program. As the 2020 season continues, don’t be surprised to hear Tucker’s name confidently called upon on and off the field.
“He’s got a million-dollar smile and brings so much to this team, not only as a football player but in the locker room with his leadership, with his voice and just the way he lives his life on and off the field,” Holtz said. “It’s one of those rewarding stories as a coach where you have the opportunity to sit back and just say how proud I am as a man and as a player with the patience, determination, class, character and work ethic that he’s put in to be the type of person he’s become.”
Tucker ranks second on the Tech roster this year with 192 rushing yards on 42 carries. He and the Bulldogs’ rushing attack will host 3-0 Marshall for the first time as a C-USA opponent on Saturday.
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