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Fast and fearless

MARQUETTE – Kickoff returners need nerves of steel and Northern Michigan University’s Marcus Tucker has a lot of them.

It isn’t easy to be the only one deep at one end of the Superior Dome field with hulking players from the other team sprinting toward you like lunatics.

But Tucker’s speed and impeccable ability to find holes in the coverage helped him rack up 841 return yards, tops in the GLIAC last season, and average 26.3 yards per return, good for third in the conference.

Some might be wary of standing on the far goal line as 11 guys run toward you eager to pound you into the turf, but Tucker shrugs it off and credits his teammates.

“It’s not intimidating at all,” he said. “You want to know why? Because I know I have 10 guys that are blocking their butts off for me.”

But Tucker spends a majority of his time on the field at wide receiver on the offense, looking for openings in the pass coverage for NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky’s offense.

He was NMU’s top receiver with 40 receptions for 843 yards and seven touchdowns. He also led the GLIAC, averaging 21.1 yards per catch, and was fourth in all-purpose yards with 1,704. All of these statistics helped Tucker make the All-GLIAC Second Team.

They numbers are particularly impressive for a player whose No. 1 position in high school was in the defensive secondary.

“I played both in high school, but my main position was cornerback,” Tucker said. “Coach O (Ostrowsky) watched my film and I went in there and he asked what I wanted to do.

“I said cornerback is my main position so I wanted to play corner. He sat me down and said, ‘Son, you’re not playing corner here. You’re playing wide receiver.’ So that’s what it was.”

Ostrowsky said Tucker’s athletic ability shouted receiver to him.

“I thought his athleticism was so fluid and natural that he would be more valuable to us on the offensive side of the ball,” he said. “That kid is the whole package.”

When asked what he likes about being on offense as opposed to defense, Tucker says it’s all about having the ball in his hands and that everything goes quiet as soon as the ball goes up in the air.

“It might sound weird, but when I get off the ball and I make my move, and then I look up as the ball is in the air, I just feel like everything is in slow motion,” he said. “The crowd tunes out, the guy that’s guarding me tunes out.

“I can literally see the ball coming from its peak into my hands and I think that’s what really gets me to the plays that I make on a regular basis.

“Scoring touchdowns, having the ball in your hands, being in open space with the ball, those types of things are awesome. Scoring a touchdown in this dome is a feeling that I have yet to feel anywhere else.”

Coming to the Upper Peninsula from Flint was a definite adjustment for Tucker, but he says that after Ostrowsky got him to become a Wildcat, he fell in love with the area.

“I had friends who played here and when they committed here, I knew nothing about Northern Michigan,” Tucker said. “Once I met coach and talked to him, I fell in love with him as a person and as a coach.

“When I came up here, I fell in love with the community here. The people here in the U.P. are great and it was a different type of feel coming from a big city.”

As Tucker’s senior season approaches, he wants to go out with a bang. Not as an individual but as a member of a program that has reversed its fortunes. Last year the team finished 3-8.

“As a senior, I think the biggest thing for me is I really want to see this team turn it around,” Tucker said. “My heart is really heavy here. It’s deeply rooted in Northern Michigan football. Coming here has changed my life and I just want to see us successful.

“I want us to win games and I want this place to be packed. I want people from Ishpeming, Negaunee, Iron Mountain, everywhere to say that Saturday nights in the U.P., if you’re not in the Superior Dome watching Northern Michigan play, then what are you doing?

“The awards are cool and everything, but winning is the most important thing for me. It’s cool to hear you were the player of the week or you were the best on our team, but to me that means nothing if every Saturday we’re stepping out there and getting beat.

“Honestly, I feel like the sky is the limit for me and for this team.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.