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Ravens' Justin Tucker: More Than A Kicker

October 17, 2016
The air was still, the atmosphere flat.

As the Ravens went through their paces during a hot, humid early-August public stadium practice -- a show for the fans who can't access the team's practice facility for training camp workouts -- the tedium sometimes accompanying the various drills didn't exactly have the joints jumping.

In other words, it was a perfect time for fifth-year kicker Justin Tucker to inject himself into the proceedings.

Tucker stood at the 15-yard line and placed a football on a tee. His teammates gradually backed out of the way and a murmur began to rise through the crowd.

With the ball 85 yards from the opposite goal line, plus the 10-yard end-zone depth, it meant ... wait, was Tucker actually going to try to kick a 95-yard field goal?   

Earlier that week, Denver Broncos kicker Brandon McManus doubted Tucker's ability to make good on a contention that he could kick an 84-yard field goal in Denver's thin Rocky Mountain air. Tucker was supposedly out to prove him wrong by unleashing a howitzer that would be 31 yards longer than the current NFL record.

With an in-game 61-yarder and training camp 69-yard boot already on his résumé, the fifth-year Houston-born kicker approached the ball with his usual swagger and charisma and ... immediately reversed his approach angle and banged a 25-yard chip shot through the uprights. One could practically hear Tucker yell, "Psych!"

After all, he was just having fun.

Shining ‘A Light Around Others'

Cynics might suggest it's easy to have fun with quick and frequent success. But no one can argue what Tucker has meant to a Ravens franchise that, before his arrival, had already been blessed with two Pro Bowl kickers in Matt Stover and Billy Cundiff.

Tucker's on-field achievements are well-documented:

- He is the AFC's most accurate field-goal kicker of all-time and second-best in league history at 88.7 percent (through Week Four), topped only by Dallas' Dan Bailey (90.5).

- He reached the 500-point career mark faster than any kicker in NFL history, just 60 games. By one game, that eclipsed a record set by the only pure placekicker in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Jan Stenerud.

- Tucker claims 12 career game-winning kicks, including two on the road this season, a 49-yarder in Cleveland Sept. 18 and a 54-yard boot with 1:02 remaining to pull out the win in Jacksonville one week later.

- He has won six AFC Special Teams Player of the Week awards and, just last month, took home his third AFC Special Teams Player of the Month honor.

- Through Week Four, Tucker had missed only six times in his career in the fourth quarter and six times when the Ravens are trailing. He had also made all 144 extra-point tries, including 34 in a row after the nearly automatic 20-yard distance was moved back to 33 yards in 2015.

With such success comes an often harsh spotlight on pro athletes. But when someone is as multi-faceted and well-rounded as Tucker, it can also display the very best someone has to give. For him, that is plenty.

Since Tucker arrived in Baltimore as an undrafted free agent in 2012, he's become a familiar figure on Charm City's sports scene, flashing an eclectic (and entertaining) personality that's endeared him to fans and teammates alike.

The 26-year-old Tucker is an amalgam of Orioles outfielder Adam Jones' confidence, Baltimore Colts legend Art Donovan's shoot-from-the-hip sense of humor and former-Terps head coach Gary Williams' intensity. It would be no shock if Tucker could impersonate those three as well as he handles the unique vocal patterns of such diverse celebrities as businessman (and Republican presidential nominee) Donald Trump, Oscar-winning actors Christopher Walken and Matthew McConaughey, and former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, among many others. 

In short, Tucker is a 6-foot-1, 180-pound bundle of energy, passion and charisma, not to mention accuracy. 

"He's like a comedian," punter Sam Koch said. "You could be around [a] comedy tour, 24-7. Everything that comes out of his mouth is trying to make somebody laugh and have fun. He enjoys his time here, and that's good, because there are going to be times around here that things aren't fun. That's his attitude, his personality and his character."

While some might characterize placekickers, hockey goalies and relief pitchers as "flaky," that sobriquet doesn't fit Tucker at all. He does not embrace obscure philosophies and religions or draw inspiration from little-known pseudo-scholars claiming they have the answers to cure societal ills. A Ravens website headline from October 2012 said it all: "Lovable Weirdness." 

Tucker is simply an extroverted guy with a wide variety of interests, such as comedy, music (his major at the University of Texas), television and volunteering to take part in the Ravens' many community-oriented initiatives. Last month, Tucker and running back Justin Forsett were spotted paying tolls for Fort McHenry Tunnel drivers dressed in full toll-collector gear.

"Why does anybody have to feel like they should fit into box x, y or z?" Tucker said. "We're people; we don't fit into boxes, or baskets, for that matter. So I'm of the thought that you should do what you like to do, and do everything you can to shine a light around others around you as well.

"I think it was kind of natural for me to take an interest in fine arts, especially in music. It wasn't anything that seemed out of the ordinary. Maybe to somebody else looking in, when they say ‘football player' they want to peg me as a football player and say, ‘That's your role.' I've never been one to think that you should put a label on anybody for any reason."

Besides his family, no one is around Tucker more than his teammates, including linebacker and locker-room neighbor Zachary Orr, who is well-placed to testify to Tucker's tension-easing propensity.

Like Tucker, Orr was an undrafted player who had to work harder than most during his nascent days with the team. Today, Orr is the starting weak-side linebacker who enjoys Tucker's penchant for helping create the loose locker room that is a Ravens trademark.

"He's definitely one of those people that is going to break the tension," Orr said. "If it's quiet, you can definitely count on Tuck to say something. If Tuck's quiet, you know something is really, really wrong. Tuck can definitely be one of those guys when, if the mood is kind of down, he'll be able to pick everybody up."

On The Roll Of His Life

Fans need no extra motivation to come see Tucker and his teammates at various local restaurants for the taping of WMAR-TV's (Channel 2) "The Nest," which airs Sunday mornings at 11:30.

During one of last winter's shows, as the public question-and-answer period got underway, a fan asked Tucker whether he would prefer his then-not-yet-born son be an opera singer or NFL placekicker.

Under a prominent shock of jet-black hair, Tucker's bright, expressive eyes flashed, his chiseled jaw line set and his megawatt smile was in full force as he gave his answer.

"I just want him to be happy and healthy," Tucker said. "At the same time, it would be kind of cool if he could kick the rock like pops."

It was the kind of hip, confident answer expected from someone who, while already having been blessed with a burgeoning career and ever-growing prominence, is currently on the kind of roll others can only dream about.

During the last 19 months, Tucker added to a robust life résumé with a March 2015 marriage to college sweetheart Amanda Bass, followed by the birth of the couple's first child, their son, Easton, May 10, 2016.

On top of that, Easton's birth took place a little more than two months before Tucker, the only franchise-tagged kicker in Ravens history, signed a four-year, $16.8 million contract, complete with a $10.8 million guarantee that included a $6 million signing bonus.

The deal, signed hours before the July 15 deadline for franchise free agents to sign long-term deals, assured the team's so-called "Wolf Pack" -- a term from the movie "The Hangover" encompassing Tucker, Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox -- would be together at least through the 2019 season.

Contract negotiations usually bring plenty of angst, harsh words and lingering resentment. But, true to Tucker's personality, he believes the negotiations never came close to testing his basic temperament in any way.

"Life is just full of blessings," Tucker said. "Ever since I came into the league, seems that, year after year, something happens that is much more of a blessing than [the] year before. That's comes with winning a Super Bowl, too. 

"There's been some pretty amazing stuff that's happened to me personally, both on and especially off the field. And the birth of [Easton] and Amanda and I getting married are for sure at the top of that list."

While Tucker's marriage to Bass officially removed him from the list of Baltimore's eligible bachelors, his charming presence will always bring a smile to those who swoon at the very sight of him on their TV screens.

Issue 226: Justin Tucker (Royal Farms, dancing)
Photo Credit: Rob Holmes/Royal Farms

"[Tucker] is pretty awesome," Perry Hall, Md., resident Dina McNeir said. "Besides his obvious kicking talents, I think the thing that is most appealing is his personality and sense of humor. He likes to have fun and it shows.

"He believes in God and gives back to the community. He has many talents that he has shared with the fans. He just seems like a good guy."

Singing For His Supper

Royal Farms coffee is the one for me
Fresh and hot, it hits the spot
Get yourself a cup at Royal Farms
I'm sure you will agree
Two sugars and some cream, 
that is my dream
A cup of Royal Farms
-- Sung to the tune of "El Toreador," from "Carmen"

Tucker's rich, deep tenor booms from TV screens with the same kind of force his leg generates when attempting a field goal from 55 yards. An aria with an aura, you might say.

But his commercial appeal isn't limited to pitching Royal Farms coffee and chicken while singing opera, which he can do effortlessly in seven languages. He has done commercials for CarBiz and other businesses, infusing a "good guy" demeanor.

"Justin's special, in that he's a normal guy. He looks like a clean-cut, regular guy," said Royal Farms marketing and merchandising director Frank Schilling. "His personality comes through [on-camera]. He's a multi-talented guy and a good-looking young man."

Issue 226: Justin Tucker (Royal Farms, rapping)
Photo Credit: Rob Holmes/Royal Farms

Schilling said his company first reached out to Tucker in late 2013, before the kicker had put in two full seasons with the Ravens. Previously, Royal Farms' main spokesperson had been defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who, along with his wife, Christina, had extolled the virtues of the company's fried chicken through a series of humorous spots.

However, Schilling and his team knew, with 2014 and the final year of Ngata's Ravens contract approaching, the company would need to add another face to its campaign.

They couldn't help but notice the effusive Tucker, who as a devout Catholic makes the sign of the cross before each field-goal try and does other on-field gyrations to celebrate key three-pointers.

The Royal Farms brass brought Tucker in to do a few spots alongside Ngata, before taking over the lead role in the commercials after Ngata left for the Detroit Lions in free agency. Besides the opera ad and even one featuring Tucker rapping, a recent spot featured a Ravens-Orioles connection, in which Tucker worked with outfielder Joey Rickard.

But while Tucker's sense of humor and outgoing personality drew Royal Farms' attention, his professionalism off-camera has drawn rave reviews. Usually, a series of spots are shot at one time, with Tucker having to be on set from approximately 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

While Schilling has been on-site for some of the spots, it is Royal Farms' marketing manager Ed Stronski who's spent the most time overseeing the production process. 

"There's not too much clowning around going on," Stronski said. "The word 'perfectionist' is overused at times, but [Justin] is on the set for eight or nine hours because we're shooting multiple spots, and he's very professional. He wants to be very sure that he's given us what we want."

It's an appropriate statement, given Royal Farms' strong identity with Baltimore, a town that loves to embrace its athletes in every way possible. 

In that way, Tucker is perfect for Baltimore. He has embraced its people with his various charity initiatives, his propensity for inviting youngsters to shag kicks for him at Patterson Park and his performance of the revered "Ave Maria" at the Catholic Charities Christmas festival Dec. 10, 2015.

The middle child of three, Tucker's Renaissance lifestyle, as well as his willingness to share his gifts, can be traced back to his family.

"I come from a family that always made sure we shared with each other how much we love each other," Tucker said. "Mom and Dad are happily married, and their relationship has served as a wonderful example of what it means to be in love and to serve as leaders of a household."

These days, Justin Tucker is in love with life, as well as football. 

And as long as he's around, the atmosphere in Baltimore may never go flat again. 

Issue 226: October 2016