FORT WORTH — Growing up in Chapel Hill, Matthew Tucker says he really never had a favorite college football team, despite the bevy of choices available to young Texas high school football players.
No Texas Longhorns? No Texas A&M Aggies? No SMU Mustangs or Houston Cougars?
Nope, Tucker says. Never found one.
Perhaps that made it easier for him to choose TCU. His choice certainly turned out well.
TCU enters this season on a wave of success the Horned Frogs haven’t experienced in decades. Since joining TCU for the 2009 season, Tucker and the Horned Frogs have gone 39-3, won the Rose Bowl over Wisconsin, won or shared three Mountain West titles and earned their ticket back to the land of the big boys in college football.
Entering his senior season, Tucker is the presumed co-starter at running back, along with Waymon James. Tucker is coming off All-Mountain West honorable mention honors and is on the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list for the second straight year.
Oh, and did we mention the renovations at Amon Carter Stadium are complete? The two-year project rebuilt the stands on both sides of the stadium and added modern touches to the venerable old venue.
“Everyone is happy about it, certainly,” Tucker said of all of the success and the change. “(When) we started our first day of workouts and all that stuff, everyone was fired up about it.”
No move has gotten more attention than TCU joining the Big 12 this season. TCU was one of four schools left out in the cold when the Southwest Conference broke up in 1996. TCU went from the Western Athletic Conference to Conference USA to the Mountain West before accepting an invitation in 2010 to join the Big East for the 2012 season.
But the departures of Missouri and Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference compelled the Big 12 to invite new members, and TCU received an invitation late last year. Since the Horned Frogs hadn’t started Big East play, they were able to make the move to the Big 12 without too many obstacles.
Ask Tucker about the move to the Big 12 and the refurbishment of Amon Carter and he’ll tell you that the team has moved past making a big deal out of it.
“They’ve upgraded everything,” Tucker said. “It’s certainly nicer. But we can’t let that stuff distract us on the field.”
Tucker would rather focus on his senior season at TCU, one that promises to be intriguing. TCU’s backfield has been a timeshare lately, and last season Tucker shared time with Ed Wesley and James. James was the leading rusher with 875 yards. Wesley was second with 726 yards. Tucker was right behind him with 702 yards. But Tucker scored as many touchdowns (12) than James and Wesley combined. In fact, Tucker led the Horned Frog position players in scoring with 72 points and is working his way up the all-time touchdown chart. He enters this season with 27 career touchdowns, sixth on TCU’s all-time list.
In some ways he was TCU’s most consistent back last year, gaining at least 90 yards in three different games and scoring at least one touchdown in nine games.
Wesley departed this past spring for the NFL’s supplemental draft, leaving Tucker and James as the Horned Frogs’ most experienced backs. Gary Patterson doesn’t believe losing Wesley will be of grave concern.
“I don’t think you can find a better running back tandem than Waymon and Matthew, I really don’t,” Patterson said.
Tucker has the track record to back that up. He saw playing time as a true freshman in 2009, racking up 676 yards, the fifth-best total for a freshman back in TCU history. A year later he rushed for 709 yards and contributed to the Horned Frogs’ magical run to a 13-0 season and a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin, which cemented TCU’s place on the national scene.
Tucker might well get extra carries. But he says he’s bought into the TCU way of doing things and is more interested in winning and helping his direct competition, James, this season.
“Yeah, I think there’s a chance for more carries,” Tucker said. “But it has to be within the game plan. In the Big 12 you really need multiple backs.”
“Waymon and I really feed off each other,” Tucker said. “We’re like brothers. We’re always hanging out. You see him, you see me.”
Tucker’s mindset meant plenty of work in the weight room this offseason. He didn’t take many trips away from Fort Worth, instead choosing to work on upper body strength and quickness for the upcoming season.
A place on the Doak Walker award list is meaningful, Tucker says, as is a place in an offense that will get national attention, thanks to its move to the Big 12. But does it mean Tucker will get a shot at the NFL? He’s not sure. Right now, NFL Draft Scout has Tucker ranked No. 39 among draft-eligible backs for the 2013 NFL Draft. Tucker says he can run a 4.4 40-yard dash, a mark that should get him some attention next spring.
But Tucker admits he’s more focused on the season ahead than life beyond TCU. He says he’s interested in the NFL, but if the NFL is not interested in him he’s planning for life after that, as the criminal justice major has narrowed down his career options to sports agent or law enforcement officer, hopefully in the FBI.
“I would like to stay involved in sports, if I can,” Tucker said.