Soon-to-be Notre Dame freshman CB Chance Tucker ready to outshine his stars

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

There is no state title to chase, no way to even extend the regular season beyond a six-week window, and no guarantee even that won’t be constricted.

But there is high school football in California, finally.

That leaves just three states — Hawaii, Connecticut and Maine — that will finish the 2020-21 school year without a stab at playing through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s nothing meaningless about the five games we’re about to play,” said Encino Crespi coach Dameon Porter, a sentiment echoed by his star cornerback and soon-to-be Notre Dame freshman Chance Tucker.

Schools were allowed to open Friday night, though the schedule is already pocked with virus-prompted cancellations. Porter elected to schedule a combined practice/scrimmage for Crespi with Culver City on the opening weekend, Saturday evening to be precise, before forging ahead with its actual opener next Saturday against Calabasas.

While Notre Dame has surged in its recruiting in recent weeks with more offers and more mutual interest with elite prospects in the 2022 cycle on defense, Tucker may turn out to be a reminder why being totally dismissive of three-star athletes would be a miscalculation in the recruiting formula.

Upside still matters, and Tucker appears to have it in abundance.

“I think Chance is the perfect recruit for what I think Notre Dame is right now as a program,” Porter said. “Their program is growing. They’ve been a lot better the last few years. You see the goals that the defensive staff has are starting to come together.

“They’ve made an obvious attempt to get longer, more athletic skill kids and put them in the secondary. I think Chance fits that for them.”

Even more so now after how Tucker spent the 454-day span between the end of California’s last high school season and this condensed one, particularly through the pandemic.

Keep in mind too, he was 16 years old both when Notre Dame offered him a scholarship in June, and when he and his father, Byron, flew out and took a self-guided tour of the ND campus on July 4-5 to help him decide whether to commit to the Irish or Washington later that month.

He won’t turn 18 until August training camp with the Irish in what will be just his second full season and third overall playing the position. He’s one of 13 June arrivals in a freshman class stacked with 14 mid-year enrollees.

“I think Notre Dame is going to see a much better player than we’re seeing,” Porter said “He’s a developing corner. He’s going to be an established corner when he shows up there.”

And a stronger, bigger version of himself.

Tucker was 6-foot, 165 pounds when he signed with Notre Dame in December. He weighed in at 185 this week, and all the while maintaining the track speed that helped him be a CIF Southern Section qualifier in the 200- and 400-meter runs as a sophomore.

His junior track season was truncated by COVID after a handful of meets.

The Crespi football program, meanwhile, had its starts and stops with its in-person weight training over the past year as the virus surged and ebbed and so too did L.A. County’s stricter-than-average mitigation strategies.

So Tucker’s father bought weights and turned the family garage into a gym. Byron even lifted with Chance at the start.

“Eventually, we started doing Zoom workouts together with my teammates that I could do from the garage,” Tucker said. “But if it was by myself, that was OK too.

“My goal was to get better, so I’d have a chance to play early at Notre Dame and gain the coaches’ trust. I guess I never looked at it as a hardship. I try to make the best out of every day.

“I’m not really a negative person, so I’m always looking for the positive things.”

Tucker found one in Awan Diles, an area high school defensive backs coach, to help him work on his technique and lateral quickness when he wasn’t weight training or practicing.

He chatted with cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens and new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to make sure his vision aligned with theirs.

“Coach Freeman seems like a great guy — very smart, intelligent,” said Tucker who himself carries a 4.2 GPA. “I knew Notre Dame was going to come back with the best of the best and did. I’m excited.”

He’s also excited about majoring in business, having texted with Tom Mendoza, the benefactor of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

His immediate focus is the business of his senior year in football, however delayed and unconventional. Tucker sees it as the runway for his college career, and so do those around him.

“It’s not what our seasons usually look like,” Porter said. “But it’s still football. And in Chance, you’re going to see a different looking kid on film this year. I think it’s a chance to elevate his status a little bit more – not that he needs it.

“He just wants to get better and show that he’s getting better. Notre Dame is getting a kid who’s had a tremendous amount of growth in the past year. And, really, he isn’t close to being done growing yet.”

Notre Dame incoming freshman Chance Tucker (7) hopes to sharpen his game this spring during California’s abbreviated and delayed high school football season.