Justin Tucker isn’t the best punter or the best kicker, but he might be the most important person Texas has ever seen at either position.
For the past decade, playing kicker for the Longhorns has been like playing running back for the Red Raiders — not usually a factor. Sure, there were some exceptions, but with an explosive offense, Texas head coach Mack Brown rarely needed a field goal or a punt.
That was then. This is now.
With this Longhorns team loaded with offensive struggles, Tucker has suddenly become one of Texas’ most dangerous weapons. He can punt and he can kick, and the combination of the two helped Texas beat Nebraska. Tucker connected on two field goals in the 20-13 victory, but he also contributed a 55-yard punt in the third quarter that was downed at the 3-yard line and a 67-yarder that was downed at the 5.
“The ball bounced right for us on Saturday,” Brown said. “And a lot of that had to do with Justin Tucker.”
Because of his success, Tucker became the first Longhorn to be named Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week this season. But being a modest and laid-back person, Tucker gave credit where he felt credit was due.
“I’ve got to give some big props to Malcolm [Williams] for getting to the punt and downing it where we wanted it,” Tucker said.
Tucker even sent Williams a text message after the game saying, “Thanks for making me look good on that punt.”
“Anytime, Justin,” Williams replied.
Tucker’s surge as one of the most important players on the team can be attributed to his confidence. One teammate said he “might have the most swagger on the team,” and he’s a music aficionado. He can rap and make beats and don’t doubt him — while many football players choose kinesiology, Tucker is majoring in recording technology. He’s so hip-hop that his teammates call him, “J-Tuck.”
“Justin is ... ” Aaron Williams said while searching for words. “ ... Justin is very much a character.”
The 6-foot-1-inch, 185-pound Austin-native junior might not fit in with his teammates physically, but he makes up for it with his humor. He’s a huge South Park fan who can play video games with the best of them. But while most of his teammates are strictly into the football games, Tucker’s favorite video game is FIFA World Cup.
“Being an ex-soccer player, Justin’s got great control with his feet,” Brown said. “And he’s really good because of how well he can control the ball.”
With the rugby punt nailed down, the Texas coaches let Tucker experiment on Saturday. Instead of rolling right to kick it right, Tucker rolled right to kick across his body to kick left. As a result, the Nebraska punt returner didn’t know what to do, and it cost the Cornhuskers major field position.
“Sometimes people don’t give special teams enough credit,” Tucker said. “But they can turn out to be pretty huge down the road.”
With an abundance of close games, Tucker could be exactly right. He’s 11 for 13 this season, perfect from 40 yards or less and two for four from deeper. He’s constantly improving both his punting and kicking and is ready for a game winner like Hunter Lawrence had in last year’s Big 12 championship victory over Nebraska.
“I’ll get mine one day,” Tucker said.