The name Caleb Tucker is bound to strike a chord with anyone that follows football in the area.
Especially the closer you get to Millhaven Road.
Tucker was a demon on the field at Ouachita Parish High School, equally adept at making tackles and rushing the passer from his linebacker perch. Those skills didn’t go unnoticed and earned Tucker a football scholarship to the University of Houston.
Tucker’s back in Monroe now; his sojourn at Houston lasting only a redshirt freshman season in 2013 and a portion of last year. His reasons for coming home were altruistic, but the circumstances were the worst they could be.
The allure of college football didn’t matter anymore when Tucker’s mother Tanni told him she had breast cancer. He wanted to leave Houston right then, but she wouldn’t hear of it.
“I was at Houston maybe two or three months and she didn’t tell me, but I could hear in her voice something was wrong,” Tucker said. “My mom is a very independent woman so I had to keep asking her and finally she told me it was cancer.”
Tucker listened to his mother. He worried about her every day but begrudgingly stayed in school while she went through treatment.
Tanni beat the cancer while her son started to show some flashes of promise for the Cougars. Tucker made his first career start in Houston’s 2014 season opener and racked up six tackles that day against UTSA.
Any closure was only temporary. The Tuckers were forced to deal with every cancer survivor’s biggest fear when Tanni’s cancer returned not long after Caleb’s college football debut.
This time there was no asking. Tucker wasn’t staying at Houston.
“I loved Houston but when I found out my mom was sick again that just wasn’t going to work out,” Tucker said. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with football but once I found out ULM was interested in me it put that part of it at ease.”
Tucker spent the fall by his mom’s side as she completed chemotherapy while getting reacquainted with his hometown. Football took care of itself once he enrolled at ULM in January.
ULM was among Tucker’s many suitors coming out of Ouachita, including Washington, Southern Miss, UL-Lafayette and Louisiana Tech.
“We recruited him hard out of high school and I always felt like this was the best spot for him,” ULM head coach Todd Berry said. “Obviously he’s had some family situations that predicated the move but we’re really happy to have him.”
Tucker said Tanni is still undergoing treatment but is “doing great.”
The next step after Tucker enrolled at ULM was to figure out his eligibility. It didn’t look good after his initial hardship waiver for immediate eligibility was denied due to changes in NCAA legislation, but Tucker was ruled eligible for 2015 on appeal.
“This was a case where there was a legitimate hardship and the NCAA made the right call,” Berry said. “Quite honestly now I wish we had gotten him more reps in the spring because I think his ability as a pass rusher is something that can help us.”
ULM’s unorthodox 3-3-5 isn’t like any defense Tucker has ever played in, but he’s getting more comfortable in the scheme each day.
“Honestly I came back here with an agenda to take care of my mom and show everyone I can still play. She’s the first thing I think about every morning,” Tucker said.
“Being able to do it at ULM is the icing on the cake. It’s a great opportunity to represent your hometown school and put Monroe on the map.”
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