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Newcomers make impact for Cyclones
Transfer linebacker Tyrone Tucker can't wait to face Nebraska in sold-out stadium.
By JOHN SHIPLEY
Register Staff Writer
Ames, Ia. - Saturday is the day for which Tyrone Tucker has waited most of his life: second-ranked Nebraska at a sold-out Jack Trice Stadium in front of a live television audience.
"This is the kind of game you want to play," said Tucker, who will make his fifth start at middle linebacker for Iowa State in the 2:30 p.m. kickoff. "It doesn't get any better than this."
Tucker is one of several first-time starters who has paid instant dividends for the Cyclones. A junior college transfer who joined the program last spring, he is among the team's top tacklers and has anchored a linebacker corps that went from weakness last season to asset this season.
"I knew if I worked hard enough, I had the talent to play Division I football," said Tucker, who was virtually unrecruited as a senior at Southland High School in Miami, Fla. Poor grades made junior college a necessity, he said, and the only recruiting letter he got was from Jackson State.
"There's so much talent in Dade County that some guys get overlooked," he said. "I believe I was one of those guys."
Iowa State coaches found Tucker at City College of San Francisco, where he wreaked havoc on the California League as a defensive end and linebacker. After leading his team to a 23-1 record in his two seasons, Tucker was recruited by several Division I teams, including Minnesota, Southern Mississippi and Nevada-Las Vegas.
Tucker wanted to play in the Big 12 Conference and orally committed to Texas Tech. But what Tucker called a mixup over his grades required him to take summer classes before enrolling.
That wasn't the case at Iowa State, so Tucker backed out and joined the Cyclones because, he said, "I wanted to go in at spring semester."
Tucker's impact has been immediate. At 6 feet 2 inches and 235 pounds, he's helped build bulk and depth in a linebacker corps that last season was thin and undersized. In fact, all three starters - Tucker, Derrick Walker and Justin Eilers - are newcomers. Backups Ab Turner, Matt Word and Chris Whitaker all started at one time last season.
"I feel like we have six starting linebackers," defensive coordinator and linebackers coach John Skladany said.
Half the team's top tacklers are linebackers. Walker, a quarterback last season, leads the team in tackles with 29, including two sacks. Turner has 26 tackles, followed by Matt Word and Tucker with 22 each.
"He's a big, physical kid that can run," Skladany said of Tucker. "He's a good athlete and he picks things up pretty quick. He's picked up the defense and has been a big, big help."
Tucker is eager to play Nebraska. A crowd of 50,000 is expected to watch Iowa State (4-0) try to break a seven-game losing streak to Nebraska (4-0) that is worse than it sounds. A 19-10 victory in 1992 is the Cyclones' lone win in the last 22 games of this series and they've been outscored, 290-63, in Coach Dan McCarney's five-year tenure.
"The game's decided on the field, it's not decided by our records or what we've done in the past," Tucker said. "We've got to play at 2:30 Saturday, that's how we decide who wins or loses."
The task is a tall one. Nebraska features the nation's top rushing defense with a 355-yard average, and the most deceiving stat in the Big 12 stat book is probably Nebraska's 12th-ranked pass offense.
Quarterback Eric Crouch completed just 10 passes in a 42-13 victory over Iowa on Sept. 23, but five were for touchdowns.
"They make you fall asleep with the run," Tucker said. "It's run, run, run, then run fake and - boom! - the cornerback bites helping on the run and it's an 80-yard touchdown off the pass."
Tucker will be one of the players responsible for containing the elusive Crouch, who averages 85 rushing yards a game.
"You've got to play sound defense, really," Tucker said. "You have to be on your A-game."
Arrive early: Iowa State University officials are urging fans planning on attending Saturday's football game between the Cyclones and Nebraska to arrive in Ames as early as possible. The game will kick off at 2:30 p.m.
"Because of various pregame events near the stadium and on campus, fans who want to be in their seats for kickoff should plan on arriving approximately 2 hours before the start of the game, Iowa State interim athletics director Elaine Hieber said.
"We expect heavy traffic in Ames, which will make an early arrival advisable," she said.
Iowa State fans are encouraged to meet the Cyclone team across South Fourth Street, north of the Jacobson Athletic Building and Jack Trice Stadium as the team buses arrive at 12:45 p.m.