It was pretty clear that Casey Tucker was meant to be a football player.
The size, the athleticism and natural instincts were all there from an early age and the Hamilton (Chandler) senior did everything he could to put himself in a position to be able find a college that suited his needs and felt right. On Wednesday when he stepped up to the podium with a crimson block S on his hat, it was evident that Tucker had settled on Stanford.
He prepared day after day, practice after practice for this very moment.
“This is what every athlete works for with the hopes of realizing one day,” Tucker said from the DoubleTree Suites in Phoenix with his 10-year-old sister Annamarie by his side. “It’s a pretty special moment.”
The one thing he had not prepared for, but practiced before picking up the phone, was the process of telling other schools he wasn’t coming to their program.
“It was hard because you build relationships,” he said. “I practiced what I was going to say because I wanted to make sure I did everything properly.”
Tucker, a 6-foot-6, 280-pound offensive tackle, committed to Southern California early on partly because it was the program he grew up admiring and connected with on a visit prior to his junior year. As time went on, along with a coaching change at USC, Tucker realized other options might be more viable and he eventually decommitted from the Trojans before whittling it down Arizona State and the Cardinal.
“Stanford has been one of the top five programs the last few years,” Tucker said. “The program is in a great position, provides a great education and it’s where I feel the most comfortable.”
The flip-flopping and agonizing over the decision is the less-celebrated side of recruiting, but the reality is decision day is the finalization of a long process that comes easy for some – Mountain Pointe (Phoenix) player Jalen Brown (Oregon) and Desert Mountain (Scottsdale) star Kyle Allen (Texas A&M) have been on campus since the start of the January semester – and much harder for others.
But for the most part, all of Arizona’s top recruits made their intentions long before Wednesday’s official singing day.
Higley (Gilbert) offensive linemen Quinn Bailey chose Arizona State after visiting Oregon, but knew early on that staying home was the right place for him after gaining about 50 pounds between his junior and senior years to become a quality prospect.
“I knew it was the place from me from the start,” Bailey said. “I went to Oregon to check things out, but I knew Arizona State was going to be where I ended up.”
Arizona State was expected to have its best recruiting class ranking (top three by most accounts) among the Pac 12 programs since the dawn of the Internet era of recruiting ranking websites, while Arizona has a good group led by Salpointe Catholic (Tucson, Ariz.) stud Cameron Denson.
Although both programs signed only three each from Arizona, the success on the field just might lead to gaining traction when it comes to in-state athletes staying home instead of most top recruits heading out of the state.
“I think these coaches (ASU’s Todd Graham and U of A’s Rich Rodriguez) are making a difference,” Chaparral (Scottsdale) tight end Trevor Wood said. “For me Arizona was the place to go with all of the upgrades in facilities and the direction of the program. I couldn’t be happier staying in Arizona and I think other guys are going to start doing the same.”
Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothill News staff writer, is a 19-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-272-2449.