NFL still his dream: Ex-Northern Michigan University receiver, returner Marcus Tucker working for 3rd year to make NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers’ final roster

Pittsburgh wide receiver Marcus Tucker works during practice at the Steelers’ training camp in Latrobe, Pa., on Aug. 7. (AP photo)

“I’m going to have to make splash plays on special teams before I can make splash plays on offense.” — Marcus Tucker, former NMU football player, on making the Pittsburgh Steelers

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PITTSBURGH — Marcus Tucker is living his NFL dream.

In his third season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the former Northern Michigan University All-GLIAC wide receiver and return man is making the most of his opportunities at Steelers training camp, albeit taking none of it for granted.

In a phone interview last week, Tucker said he’s enjoying himself as training camp progresses and he works to improve his game.

Northern Michigan University's Marcus Tucker, left, goes up for a reception against the tight coverage of a Findlay University defender during a game played at the Superior Dome in Marquette in September 2013. (NMU photo courtesy Cory Genovese/PhotoYoop)

“Things are going pretty good,” he said. “I’m just enjoying the process. Attacking every day with as much tenacity as I possibly can, learning as much as I possibly can and working on my technique and skill. I’m excited to try making this team.”

Tucker, 26, has missed the cut the previous two seasons as teams are required to trim their active 90-man rosters down to 53 before the regular season begins.

This season could be different, though. It may be his biggest opportunity yet.

Local fans may get a chance to see him in action as soon at Thursday night as the Green Bay Packers host Pittsburgh in each team’s second exhibition game. The game will be televised on Fox-U.P., Channel 11 on Charter Communications.

In 2017, the Steelers had a strong receiving core in Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Martavis Bryant and Eli Rogers. However, Bryant was traded to the Oakland Raiders in April and Rogers is coming off of an ACL injury in the Steelers’ divisional playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in January.

Northern Michigan University's Marcus Tucker, left, makes a catch as Ohio Dominican University sophomore Billy Eakins tries to tackle him during a game played in September 2013 at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal file photo)

Unsure if Rogers, who primarily plays slot receiver, will be good to go for the regular season, Tucker now has a big opportunity to earn that fourth receiver position.

It won’t come easy, though. Tucker spent his career at NMU playing outside receiver for the Wildcats. Learning the inside position is a process, he says.

“It’s just a different feel for me,” he said. “You need to learn where the linebackers are, proper spacing and other things of that nature. It’s sort of a feel that has to come naturally to guys. For me, because I played outside (receiver) most of my career and life, it’s just been trying to get on the same page and possess the things that come naturally to others.”

Tucker isn’t alone in the receiving battle. Aside from Brown, Smith-Schuster and Rogers, the Steelers had eight other receivers on the roster to open fall training camp who Tucker had to compete with. Most notable are Darrius Heyward-Bey and Justin Hunter, who each saw playing time for the Steelers last season.

Despite competition at the position, Tucker said it’s all about helping his teammates out as they do the same for him.

Marcus Tucker, a wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers and former Northern Michigan University football player, talks to participants during the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency’s Student-Athlete Leadership Workshop in March. A variety of speakers shared their experiences to help the local high schoolers. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

“I just want to help guys and help myself,” he said. “We’re all learning. We use one another to get better. I wouldn’t really call myself a leader, nor a follower. We’re all helping each other. It’s a team deal.”

Outside of the receivers position, Tucker has also been getting some work on the Steelers’ special teams unit, which he believes is key if he wants to make the final cut. As a return man for the Wildcats, Tucker had a 1,618 yards bringing back kicks of various sorts in his career.

“Special teams is key for me because that’s how I’m really going to make my mark,” he said. “I’m going to have to make splash plays on special teams before I can make splash plays on offense. When I’m back there, I get an opportunity to show some things in the return game and show these guys I can do it. It’ll definitely help and increase my chances.”

Throughout his NFL journey, Tucker hasn’t forgotten about NMU or Marquette. In fact, he still loves it, coming back often to train, work with some players on the current Wildcat roster, or hold youth camps.

“I come back every off-season,” he said since finishing his playing career at NMU in the fall of 2015. “I train at AdvantEdge, which is the best training you can possibly get, and that’s coming from a guy who’s been in the NFL for three years.

“I’m going to continue to do that, I’m going to continue to be back in Marquette, work my butt off and give everything I have in this game until my body says I can’t do it anymore.

“I want to keep coming back and pouring in and giving all I have. Kids and parents aren’t exposed to being around NFL players and the talent level that other communities are exposed to. I want to continue to represent NMU and Marquette and show some love on my NFL journey.”

A prime example of a player from a small-town school trying to make it big, Tucker has a message for current NMU players.

“One, dream big. Two, work hard. Three, keep on pushing,” he said. “It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. It’s a favor from God for doors to open up for you and get an opportunity. At a small school like Northern, it’s not about the caliber of talent, but the opportunity you have to display that talent.

“Right there at NMU, we have the same caliber of talented players of some of those bigger schools. It comes down to opportunity and favor. Continue to work hard, believe and keep on pushing.”

As for his NMU football fans, Tucker wanted to say thank you again.

“Thank you guys for embarking on this journey with me,” he said. “Thank you for watching our club battle every Saturday in the (Superior) Dome. It was always an electric atmosphere. Thank you for believing in me and cheering us on. I’m appreciative of the support, both from NMU and the Marquette community. There’s no place like it.”

And as far as making the final 53-man roster, Tucker has full confidence in himself, but also realizes that nothing is promised.

“I believe in myself,” he said. “I’ve believed in myself since day one. I’ve received a lot of support from friends, family and loved ones. Even the coaching staff believes in me. I’m confident and I feel good, but nothing is for sure.

“Making the 53-man roster is something all 90 of these guys are trying to accomplish. We all want to battle out there and display what we can do. They’re going to take the best 53 they can possibly get because we’re trying to win a championship.”

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.