STILLWATER — On a Wednesday night about three weeks ago, Kirk Tucker got the phone call that changed his future.
Or, at least, altered the course.
A Stanford admissions liaison delivered the news that Tucker hadn't been admitted to the school he had been committed to since August. So with little time remaining until Signing Day, Tucker suddenly had to scramble to find another program.
Enter Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys immediately re-entered the picture once Tucker, a three-star linebacker/safety hybrid from Tucker (Ga.) High, reopened his recruitment. Then they snagged an official visit. Then a pledge following that trip.
“I can't lie, these last couple weeks have been stressful,” Tucker said. “But with the help of my parents and my coaches, I've been able to get through it.”
It made sense why Tucker was originally enamored with Stanford. He had visited campus three or four times. It was the first school that offered. And it's, well, Stanford.
So he decided to go ahead and commit early, allowing him to focus on school and his senior football season.
Still, Tucker and coach Bryan Lamar discussed that Stanford's high admission standards could force Tucker into a Plan B. And when Tucker got the news he did not make the cut, his father, Kirk Tucker Sr., quickly called a family meeting to regroup.
“That's life,” the elder Tucker said. “It's a growing process for a young person at 17 years old … times when you hurt, you have to pick yourself up and be able to continue. Because at the end of the day, the goal is still the same. It just might be in a different direction.”
Added the younger Tucker: “It was a pretty down moment. But I got right back up and had to realize that this whole thing is a business and everything can't go my way. I got over it pretty much that night.”
The younger Tucker first called Lamar, who then reached out to friend and OSU graduate assistant Eric Henderson. Henderson was thrilled about the possibility of the Cowboys re-entering Tucker's recruitment, who then passed on the news to defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer.
Spencer then stopped by for an in-home visit and convinced the Tuckers to come to OSU for an official visit.
The Tuckers had never been to Oklahoma, but Dad said they were “blown away” by OSU's atmosphere. Cowboy players reminded the younger Tucker of his high school teammates. Coaches were family-oriented. Stillwater was a prototypical college town, where students stuck around on weekends.
“It just reminded me of my whole team back home,” the younger Tucker said.
That visit ended in a commitment to the Cowboys. And even as other schools like Georgia, Michigan State, Oregon, Illinois and Iowa attempted to make late pitches — some coaches even tried to pull him out of class — Tucker decided to stay home for the final weekend of official visits.
He will be a hybrid “STAR” linebacker — think Lyndell Johnson in 2012 — for the Cowboys, where he can blend his speed and physicality to play in coverage and tackle in the box.
He's already proven that versatility during his high school career. While playing on a torn meniscus as a junior, Lamar recalls the younger Tucker running a ball-carrier down from about 30 yards away. And late in a game his senior season, he came off the edge for a sack and strip, which a teammate scooped up and took to the end zone for the game-winning score.
And just because Tucker did not get admitted to Stanford does not mean he's not committed to academics. He plans to major in pre-med at OSU and eventually hopes to be an anesthesiologist.
The older Tucker and Lamar also describe the younger Tucker as well-liked and respectful. Perhaps that's most evidenced by the younger Tucker being voted team captain at the end of his senior season — and holding about a 40-vote edge over any other candidates.
“It just tells you how the guys think about him, how his teammates view him,” Lamar said. “He's just a tremendous person and his character is just outstanding.”
Dad and son both hope their story can serve as a bit of a cautionary tale for other families going through the recruiting process. The message? Don't make a decision too early. Keep all options open.
That phone call from Stanford may have steered the younger Tucker's future plans into a different direction. But he's satisfied his ultimate destination will be Stillwater.
“It's just nice to know I'm gonna be at a place where I can excel, not only as a football player, but as a student and as a man,” he said. “I feel relaxed and I feel good now.”