How the Baltimore Ravens’ Justin Tucker turned one of many NFL’s all-time biggest kickers



BALTIMORE — There shall be added significance to the pregame routine of Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker on Sunday in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

As he has completed earlier than each recreation and follow since faculty, Tucker will end his warm-ups with a kick from the fitting hashmark, 48 yards out. It was from that actual distance 20 years in the past that Tucker’s idol, Adam Vinatieri, kicked a last-second discipline objective to carry the New England Patriots to their first Tremendous Bowl victory, 20-17, over the St. Louis Rams.

Tucker remembers watching that recreation as a 12-year-old. But it surely took him just a few years, after he discovered his ardour for kicking, to essentially admire the magnitude of the second.

“To me, this is among the largest kicks that is ever been, if not the largest kick that is ever been made,” Tucker instructed ESPN. “This [routine] simply places myself in that mindset, every day. How am I going to method this kick and this second when it arrives?

“That is one of many biggest components of sports activities, seeing one man propel his workforce to that profitable second.”

Tucker realized about Vinatieri by way of Doug Blevins, a private kicking coach who helped Vinatieri remodel from an unknown out of South Dakota State right into a Tremendous Bowl legend with 4 rings. When Tucker wished to completely decide to being a kicker in highschool, his household tracked down Blevins, who observed one key similarity.

“They each need to be on the stage,” Blevins stated. “They each need to be ‘the man.'”

An undrafted rookie a decade in the past, Tucker has since earned a Tremendous Bowl title, 5 first-team All-Professional alternatives and an immeasurable quantity of respect from across the league. When a kicker misses a late discipline objective, it would not take lengthy earlier than “Tucker would’ve made it” is posted on social media.

Tucker’s 91.1% accuracy on discipline objective makes an attempt is the most effective in NFL historical past. And he is not solely probably the most correct, however he is additionally the most effective in high-pressure conditions. He has transformed 59 straight discipline objectives within the fourth quarter — together with a 51-yarder Sunday in Miami — and extra time, which is the longest lively streak within the league. That features an NFL-record 66-yarder final season within the closing moments of a 19-17 win in Detroit.

Those that’ve identified Tucker since he was a toddler aren’t stunned. They’ve seen his confidence gasoline his skill to thrive within the highlight, whether or not it was a fifth-grade expertise present, a game-winning penalty kick in highschool or a singing audition for acceptance into the College of Texas’ Butler College of Music.

However there have been challenges. The primary was convincing his mom, Michelle, to let him play soccer. And the one that helped him obtain that objective was — of all folks — Drew Brees’ stepmother.

“I equate him to Mariano Rivera, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods,” stated Ravens particular groups coach Randy Brown, who has been on the sideline and follow discipline for each certainly one of Tucker’s kicks. “They’re the blokes who need the ball on the finish of the sport and the tip of their event.

“Justin’s skill to focus, and his want for the ball on the finish of the sport, is admittedly what units him aside from others.”

ONE OF THE early indicators that Tucker wasn’t afraid of the second was when he took the mic and sang “Danke Schoen,” throughout his fifth-grade expertise present. The efficiency sparked recollections of the parade scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Carrying a go well with, Tucker performed to the gang by going up and down the aisles of the college auditorium.

“He simply shouldn’t be afraid of the limelight,” stated Justin’s father, Paul Tucker, a heart specialist within the Tuckers’ hometown of Austin, Texas.

Michelle, who’s knowledgeable photographer, stated: “He has zero inhibitions. I do not know why he is like that, but it surely’s simply the way in which he is wired.”

An instance of that got here throughout Tucker’s first 12 months at Westlake Excessive College. He was the one freshman on the varsity soccer workforce, and through one recreation in opposition to rival Austin, he was fouled within the field with solely seconds remaining. And whereas he wasn’t the one who often dealt with penalty kicks, he grabbed the ball and set it down on the spot.

“I simply made it some extent that I am taking this PK,” Tucker stated. “I am placing this recreation away.”

Tucker ripped a shot into the higher proper nook for his first game-winning kick.

Many, together with Tucker’s mother and father, believed soccer represented his finest shot at a school scholarship. However Tucker wished to play soccer, and he tried to persuade Michelle within the eighth grade.

“No, you actually need to focus on soccer. You are so good,” she instructed her son, who had performed the game since he was 4.

Michelle wasn’t giving in — till she had lunch with Amy Hightower Brees. Westlake Excessive College can boast two alums who’re seemingly headed to the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame, Tucker and Drew Brees. Amy is Drew’s stepmother.

“Oh good god, lady! Let him play!” Amy instructed her shut pal Michelle. “There’s tons of pads. He is a lot extra protected than soccer. Simply let him play.”

For his first two years of highschool, Tucker performed two sports activities within the fall. He would go from training soccer for 2 and half hours within the afternoon to training soccer for 2 hours at night time. In between, Michelle would convey two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, two Gatorades and a towel for the automotive as a result of Tucker was dripping with a lot sweat.

“Now I look again, and I really feel like an fool as a result of soccer was positively what opened the door for him,” Michelle stated.

TUCKER WAS A communications main when he began on the College of Texas, however he discovered broadcast journalism wasn’t for him. Tucker had a love for music and even taught himself play the guitar by watching YouTube movies. So he set his sights on the Butler College of Music, which required 4 months of singing classes with a graduate scholar earlier than his audition.

To get admitted, Tucker needed to stand on stage and sing in entrance of three college judges. He belted out “The Inconceivable Dream,” and was admitted.

Tucker majored in recording expertise at Texas and studied below professor Nikita Storojev, a famend opera singer. Tucker’s repertoire consists of singing in seven totally different languages — English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Latin and Russian.

On the soccer discipline, Tucker would end his faculty profession in 2011 after making 83.3% of his discipline objectives, which was the third-best share at school historical past. Nonetheless, he wasn’t invited to the NFL mix, Senior Bowl or East-West Shrine Sport.

Tucker graduated a semester early so as to practice for the draft. To assist promote himself, Tucker shot a five-minute YouTube video — no cuts or modifying — of him making all 10 of his discipline objective makes an attempt from numerous distances. On the finish, he seemed on the digicam and stated, “Choose me.”

It did not work. Tucker went undrafted and in the end signed with the Ravens after coach John Harbaugh selected him over incumbent Billy Cundiff following a preseason competitors.

Ending college early meant Tucker would not stroll throughout the stage to graduate, however he was requested to return and provides the graduation speech two years later.

He defined to the Texas graduates that “his artwork” takes place on a soccer discipline. The sphere objective operation, from the snap to the maintain to the kick, is a efficiency.

“To me, in these 1.3 seconds lies a form of cathartic magnificence,” Tucker stated in Could 2014. “Virtually paradoxically, I grow to be so engaged, so targeted that I lose myself in that second, very like a musician who performs a chunk that he has studied and rehearsed time and time once more.”

TUCKER’S 66-YARD FIELD objective in Detroit on Sept. 26 not solely represents the longest discipline objective in NFL historical past, it additionally goes down as one of many gutsiest choices ever by a kicker.

With three seconds remaining and the Ravens trailing 17-16, Tucker went by way of his regular routine. He took three steps again after which moved two steps to his left earlier than making a last-second, “semi-spontaneous” audible.

“I seemed up and I spotted these [goal] posts are fairly distant,” Tucker stated. “I will have to seek out somewhat one thing further to get the ball to go.”

Tucker remembered he was quick on his 65-yard makes an attempt earlier than the sport. He had practiced a “crow hop” for over a 12 months, however he had by no means used it in a recreation. It is extra of a kickoff method the place he strikes again barely to generate extra energy.

“I simply determined, ‘What the hell. I am going to simply again up somewhat further half a step, let it rip and see what occurs,'” Tucker stated.

Tucker’s kick hung within the air for 3 seconds at Ford Discipline earlier than bouncing excessive off the crossbar after which clearing it.

“When it doinked off the bar, my first intestine response was, ‘Oh my gosh it was so shut,'” stated Michelle, who was watching the sport with the remainder of the household in Austin. “Then once I noticed the ref put his palms up prefer it was good, I am like, ‘What occurred? What simply occurred?'”

Tucker is the one kicker in NFL historical past to hit two discipline objectives of 60 yards or longer within the last minute of regulation. He improved to 16-for-16 on discipline objective tries within the last minute.

“He is not afraid to fail,” stated Brown, the Ravens particular groups coach.

Tucker’s white jersey, black pants and socks all have been despatched to the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame, and it is official to wonder if Tucker will ultimately land in Canton himself. His résumé consists of going 4-for-4 within the Ravens’ 2012 Tremendous Bowl run, together with a double-overtime recreation winner over the Broncos within the divisional spherical.

Solely two kickers are presently within the Corridor of Fame: Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen. Stenerud transformed 66.8% of his kicks over three a long time, and Anderson made 79.7% of his tries from 1982 to 2007. Each are double-digit share factors wanting Tucker’s conversion fee.

“I actually attempt not to consider that stuff,” Tucker stated. “I actually attempt to make it some extent to take it one kick at a time. That is one thing that I heard from my agent [Rob Roche] popping out of faculty, and it is a number of the finest recommendation I’ve ever gotten, proper subsequent to my grandfather once I was making an attempt out for the highschool varsity workforce; he stated, ‘Justin, simply kick the rattling ball.’

“So, between these two rules — much less is extra, easy is healthier, I suppose.”

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