Created:Wednesday, February 1, 2017 7:25 p.m.CDT
Updated:Wednesday, February 1, 2017 7:29 p.m.CDT

NIU football signing day: Huskies nab in-town talent in DeKalb receiver Tucker

Matthew Apgar - DeKalb's Cole Tucker celebrates his touchdown against \Cary-Grove during their IHSA Class 6A quarterfinal football game on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016 at DeKalb High School in DeKalb. DeKalb won 35-21 and will advance to the semifinals. (Matthew Apgar / Daily Chronicle)

DeKALB – Cole Tucker grew up with the Northern Illinois football team.

The son of a former Huskie great, the DeKalb star receiver finally signed his letter of intent to play for his hometown Huskies on Wednesday – finishing a long process that began with Tucker being the first commit for NIU in this year’s recruiting class.

“It’s exciting, I’ve been waiting a year to finally become a Huskie,” Tucker said. “I’m happy it’s over. No more recruiting process. I’ve finally signed.”

Tucker, who doesn’t turn 18 until June, heard plenty growing up about the Huskies football program from his father, Brett, who was an All-American defensive back in the late 1980s and was drafted by the Houston Oilers in the eighth round in 1990. His mother, Cindy, was a member of the 1991 NIU gymnastics team, which was inducted into the school’s hall of fame in 2003.

“We’ve had season tickets and been going to the games since he was very young,” Brett Tucker said. “He’s been brought up around the football program.”

Brett Tucker said while it’s convenient for his son to go to NIU – especially so the parents and family could go easily go to the games – he and Cole both made sure the decision to attend the university was because it was in the best interest of the DeKalb star.

The father and son combination are opposites in their routes to getting to NIU, however.

Brett was a 5-foot-11 defensive back for Sycamore who earned his spot at NIU as a walk-on – eventually getting significant playing time as a freshman as the nickel back in 1985.

Cole is lankier – 6-foot-2, 185-pounds – and a dynamic playmaker for DeKalb who earned a scholarship and announced his commitment early, giving NIU the nod last March.

In an alternative universe in which the two players’ high school teams could have faced off, who would get the upper hand in the receiver-defensive back matchup?

“I’d like to think I’d beat him, but that’s what I’d tell him,” Cole Tucker said. “I don’t know if it’s true.”

Cole Tucker got the best of his opposition in his final two years with the Barbs. As a junior and a senior – he missed most of his sophomore year with an injury – he combined for 121 catches, 2,337 receiving yards and 36 touchdowns, all of which are school records. He was named the Daily Chronicle Offensive Player of the Year in 2015 and also added three kick return and two punt return touchdowns.

“We’ve known about Cole for quite a while, obviously having a relationship with the parents and that he’s been at DeKalb with Coach (Matt) Weckler,” NIU coach Rod Carey said. “We’ve known about him for a long time. Probably really started to actively pursue it by the end of his junior season and then continued.”

For Carey and the Huskies coaching staff, it was a convenient recruiting process to stay in DeKalb – “The drive home was nice,” Carey quipped – and he showed what he could do in person, as well.

With coaches in the stands for the Barbs’ win over Sycamore, he had five catches for 86 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown on the first drive of the game, at Huskie Stadium this past fall.

Against Sycamore as a junior in 2015, Tucker had eight catches for 136 yards and three touchdowns and a kick return for a touchdown to help the Barbs beat their rival at DeKalb High School.

Tucker also is a star for the DeKalb basketball team, which Carey said showed off his athletic ability.

“You go watch him play basketball and you go watch him play football and the same things stands out to you – he’s the best athlete on the field in both sports,” Carey said. “He may not always be the fastest guy or be the biggest guy or the quickest guy, but he’s the best at all of it put together and it stands out on the field.”

Tucker was the Daily Chronicle 2016 Athlete of the Year.

While Tucker said it was difficult to see the Huskies have a down year in 2016 – finishing 5-7 and missing a bowl for the first time since 2007 – he was optimistic about the state of the program. If there is anybody who knows about a program turning around for the better, it’s his father.

With Brett Tucker sitting out the 1986 season after surgery, the Huskies started the year 0-8 en route to a disappointing 2-9 season. Three years later, as a senior, Tucker and the Huskies finished 9-2 under former coach Jerry Pettibone.

“That’s the message I tell Cole with these programs, if you keep working and grow and mature, you can turn things around really quick,” Brett Tucker said.

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