Cool Hand Verran

JuCo Transfer Hasn't Shown a Susceptibility to Pressure, On or Off the Field

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The noise level is at a maximum inside Byrd Stadium as thousands of fans plead for Maryland's defense to stop Cal's fourth-quarter comeback, but everything is completely silent in the head of wide receiver Verran Tucker.

He runs a level route and, just as the ball reaches his hands, everything becomes audible again. He hears the crowd groan as he catches the ball and falls down on his back to secure it.

Tucker's touchdown with two minutes left brings the Bears within eight and the crowd is suddenly uneasy. More significantly though, the catch represents his first ever with the team. In just his third game, the junior transfer has finally arrived on the scene.

Although his experience is limited, Tucker plays like a seasoned veteran on the field.

"When you're in the fourth quarter in a pressure game with three minutes on the clock, you need to have poise and not be too tied up," Tucker says.

Just three games after the loss to Maryland, Tucker once again exuded that same poise on the road.

"That game against Arizona, there's a few plays, it's hard to explain, but they got complicated and he reacted well and did the right thing," receivers coach Kevin Daft says. "He didn't panic and didn't look like a younger guy."

Part of the reason that Tucker appears so comfortable during games is the fact that he's played two years for El Camino Community College already. It was there that Tucker developed his skills as a receiver and caught the attention of the Cal coaching staff by helping the Warriors advance to the conference championship.

Still, Tucker has just as much experience in a Bears jersey as the freshmen do. Unlike them, though, Tucker joined Cal during fall camp and had less time to learn the playbook. While it is still a work in progress, Tucker's play on the field has not indicated any sense of confusion with the complex offense.

He has caught two touchdowns for the season and leads all receivers by averaging 17.8 yards per catch.

"Transitioning into college, there's a lot of things to deal with already, and he's also being thrusted into the offense on top of all that, so I think he's done a great job with it," Daft says. "I've told him it takes time and that it'll slowly set in."

Despite the novelty of it all, Tucker has slowly emerged as a top threat in a relatively inexperienced corps of receivers through physical strengths such as his speed, but once again, it's his patience that sets him apart.

"I'd describe myself as a wide receiver that waits for the play to come," Tucker says. "I try to go out there and make big plays, but I don't force them."

His cool, calm and collective approach to the game extends off the field as well.

When Tucker graduated high school, his grades prevented him from attending a university, so he enrolled into junior college. This past summer, in his final semester at El Camino, Tucker faced a daunting task.

If Tucker was to ever play Division I football, he would need to pass all three courses in which he was enlisted. Just as he does on the field, Tucker handled the pressure situation with confidence.

"There was no time for practice or working out and eventually I got them done," Tucker says.

Time spent studying took a physical toll, though. At the Bears' fall camp, he showed up out of shape and unfit to play, but he made no excuses.

"I felt I was pretty far behind and I'm not going to lie, I wasn't in the best shape," Tucker says. "But I started to get my legs back under me after a few practices."

Getting into shape as fast as possible was a top priority for Tucker. That's because in his mind, he had no choice but to step up his game immediately.

Going back home to Torrance, Calif., to a future without football, was simply unacceptable.

"I don't feel like I'm out here doing this for myself, but for everybody back home who knows and supports me," says Tucker.

Just a year shy of becoming an adult, Tucker seems to understand the grand scheme of it all. Even with the thought of emerging as a number one option lingers in the back of his mind, he, like always, won't risk the team's success by forcing the issue.

"I would love to play that role, but whatever role (coach Jeff Tedford) wants me to play, I'm going to play to the best of my ability," Tucker says. "I just want to help this team win."


Contact Jimmy Tran at [email protected]

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