Most high school graduates hope their parents buy them a car, a vacation getaway or throw them a party for their 18th birthday.
“My birthday gift was signing with UM,” said Walter Tucker, a nationally acclaimed track star from Plantation American Heritage School who put his signature on a football scholarship on June 10, a day after he turned 18.
“Me and [Heritage football coach and former Hurricane Mike] Rumph always talked about me going to UM and it being a good fit. He was talking about how UM used to be in the 1980s, 1990s. Players would hit people so hard and dance on the field. That’s me, kind of how I play. Rough mentality. But I show good sportsmanship, too.”
Tucker, the last of 21 players to sign with the Hurricanes as part of the 2013 recruiting class, is one of four players who will begin taking classes next week when the second session of the summer term begins. The others, according to a UM spokesman: Quarterback Kevin Olsen from Wayne Hills, N.J., running back Gus Edwards from Staten Island, N.Y., and two-sport star Cornelius Elder from Nashville.
UM has 11 other members of the class already enrolled in school: tight ends Beau Sandland and Standish Dobard; defensive backs Artie Burns and Jamal Carter; linebackers Jermaine Grace and Alex Figueroa; offensive linemen Alex Gall, Hunter Knighton and Sunny Odogwu; athlete Ray Lewis III; and graduate school punter Pat O’Donnell.
According to UM, defensive end Alquadin Muhammad, receiver Stacy Coley and athlete Ryheem Lockley remain possibilities to begin classes next week but could defer enrollment until the fall.
Tucker, the least heralded of the group on the football field, comes with an array of achievements on the track. He’s a two-time state champion in the 110-meter hurdles, a state runner-up in the 300-meter hurdles and one of the state’s best discus throwers. His father, Walter Tucker II, was an NCAA national champion who excelled in the 400 and came within a pulled hamstring of qualifying for the 1984 U.S. Olympic team.
So why does UM coach Al Golden want the younger Tucker (6-0, 205 pounds) to play linebacker for him?
“Because they see the potential in him,” said Rumph, who played on the 2001 national title team at UM and coached Tucker as the school’s defensive coordinator the past two years.
“When I look at him I see Herschel Walker. The problem for Walker was he never really played one position in high school. We had him at running back, linebacker and defensive end. Walter is a bright kid, has good football knowledge. [UM linebackers coach] Micheal Barrow is one of the best coaches in the game, and I know he is going to coach him up well. Walter is just raw. He’s going to smack anything moving, run down anything. But you have to sit there and teach him the concepts.”
Before running backs coach Hurlie Brown and Golden decided to offer him a football scholarship, the only scholarship offer Tucker said he had was a partial track deal (43 percent paid) to Clemson. UM coaches, Tucker said, wanted him to sign a track scholarship with the Hurricanes in February and walk on for football.
But once Gionni Paul and Eddie Johnson were booted from the team this spring, things changed. Tucker said Rumph made UM’s coaches sit down and watch his football highlight tape at Heritage, where, during his senior year, he ran for 343 yards and five touchdowns on 36 carries as a backup to five-star standout Sony Michel, and racked up 33 tackles and two pass deflections as the team’s starting weak-side linebacker.
Tucker said some urging from longtime friends Burns and Coley, whom he has known through track and football since early in his youth, also helped his cause with Miami.
“Coach Hurlie called my dad and set up the meeting,” Tucker recalled. “I dressed up nice. We were talking in his office when Coach Golden came in. He said, ‘We want you to play at the University of Miami, what would you say?’ I told him, ‘This is one of my dream schools; of course I would love to be at Miami.’ ”
Although he will come in as a linebacker, there is a possibility Tucker eventually could switch back to running back. Rumph said he has the intangibles to do either. Tucker said he recently bench-pressed 225 pounds (the NFL testing standard) 18 times and was clocked in the 40-yard dash as a sophomore at 4.39 seconds. He recently ran the 100-meter dash in 10.4 seconds and posted the eighth-fastest hurdles time for a high school runner in the country (13.83 seconds).
Tucker said UM — unlike other schools that also were recruiting him — has no problem with him participating in two sports. Tucker said he bumped into former Florida Gators running back Jeff Demps last fall at a track meet and asked him about the challenge of doing that in college. Tucker said he came away confident he could do both.
“If anybody can handle two sports in college, it’s Walter,” Rumph said. “Four years from now, we’re either going to be talking about him being in the NFL or in the Olympics.”