Tucker takes triple duty for Longhorns

Christian Corona

Editor’s Note: The Daily Texan will introduce one important longhorn football player each issue. Here is No. 9 of the Texan’s 10 Most Important Longhorns.

Kickers aren’t usually thought of as vital components of a team’s framework. When they hit a field goal, it’s expected. When they miss, it’s like they just forked over the playbook.

But would Texas have played for a national title two seasons ago without Hunter Lawrence and his Big 12 Championship-winning boot? How would the Longhorns have beaten Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl if Dusty Mangum hadn’t sneaked in a 37-yarder as time expired?

That’s where Justin Tucker comes in. The local product from Westlake High School is following in the steps of Lawrence and Mangum. He may not seem like one of Texas’ most important players, but when you consider the senior is also responsible for punts and kickoffs, it’s easy to see why the Longhorns need Tucker to be at his best.

“I’ve been working hard on every aspect of the kicking game, especially because I’m going to be called upon to do all three kicking duties,” Tucker said.

Now a senior, Tucker showed he can juggle all three duties last season when he made 24 of 27 field goal attempts, averaged 41.2 yards on 35 punts (17 of which pinned Texas’ opponent inside the 20-yard line) and had 15 of 65 kickoffs result in touchbacks. If the Lou Groza Award watch list member has his way, he won’t be as busy lining up field goals or trying to make opposing quarterbacks drop back in their own end zone. In 2010, Tucker attempted as many extra points as field goals (27). He and his teammates would probably prefer to be drilling more PATs than field goals this season.

“I just do my job,” Tucker said. “When they tell me to put the ball through the post, then that’s my job. When they tell me to kick it to the left or to the right or down the middle, I’ll put it where they want me to. I’ve got to be like a surgeon out there.”

Tucker first caught fans’ attention with his unorthodox punting methods. He split punting duties with John Gold his first two seasons on the Forty Acres and did rugby-style punts, which resembled squib kicks more than punts. They didn’t get quite the hangtime Gold’s punts got, but were still effective. Most return specialists could do little more than watch the Longhorn punt team down the tumbling pigskin when Tucker punted. He can use traditional techniques as well, which keeps opposing returners guessing and, if he’s kicking well, keeps them from going anywhere, too.

“What Justin’s been able to do is get so where he can do a regular punt as well as a rugby punt,” said head coach Mack Brown. “That gives us advantages. He can punt from the regular formation, he can rugby punt to his right and he can sprint to his right and then rugby punt all the way across the field to his left.”

Kickers might not expend the kind of energy other guys on the team do, but they can be just as crucial to a team’s success as anyone else. Who knows? Tucker might actually break a sweat this year.

Printed on Monday, August 8th, 2011 as: Texas' most important Longhorns: Tucker remains integral part of team