Hamilton offensive coach a gladiator, firefighter The Chandler Arizonan

Hamilton offensive coach a gladiator, firefighter

December 15th, 2020 Chandler Arizona Staff
Hamilton offensive coach a gladiator, firefighter
Sports and Recreation

By Talia Massi
Cronkite News

Mark Tucker never wanted to be just some average kid from Los Angeles.

Today, the Hamilton High School offensive line coach has a long list of accomplishments.

He is a mentor, role model and protector for many, and embodies the spirit of Hamilton High. He has given much to each and every community that has been a part of his life.

To understand Tucker’s extraordinary influence, it’s best to start at the beginning of his extraordinary story.

Tucker grew up in a single-parent home with his mom, Merceil, in Los Angeles.

They were on public assistance, but his mom worked under-the-table jobs to make ends meet.

She would tell him, “I didn’t get my education, but I am going to make sure that you get yours.”

Tucker ended up at Banning High School in Wilmington, California.

He didn’t want to be just some average kid, so he decided to play football. It turned into an opportunity for him to get a higher education.

Banning was a football powerhouse in the 1970s and 80s. Tucker was an offensive lineman and was named to the All-State Underclass team as a junior and the South Bay Lineman of the Year as a senior.

His persistence and athletic excellence gave him a full-ride scholarship to the University of Southern California, where he was a four-year starter at offensive guard.

He was All Pac-10 as a sophomore and senior, second team as a junior and first team All-American as a senior. USC went 35-12-2 when Tucker was there and went to three Rose Bowls.

When Tucker was in college, the go-to major was public administration. He didn’t even know what it meant at the time, but he did know that he wasn’t going to be like everyone else.

“I wanted to show that I was just more than a jock, so I majored in political science, because I was on the fence about going to law school,” Tucker said.

Tucker eventually wanted to get into entertainment law.

But instead of law school, Tucker was drafted in the seventh round by the Atlanta Falcons in 1991.

During his NFL career, he hopped around from team to team.

“I was still able to live a nice, comfortable lifestyle,” he said, adding, “it was kind of unfulfilling because I didn’t attain the goal that I set out to.”

He was approached about being on “American Gladiator,” a popular TV show.

Tucker appeared in about seven shows. He was excited to be a part of TV history.

“It was the most fun I think I have ever had in my life. You know I played football for a long time and I have had some great moments, but that was the most unexpected experience I have ever had in my life,” Tucker said.

He moved on to the Arena Football League with the Arizona Rattlers as a player and then a coach.

But after all the fame and glory of being a professional athlete and being on TV, Tucker was at a crossroads trying to find his purpose.

He was drawn to being a teacher.

He started off helping out at a Juvenile Corrections Facility. He became a mentor to at-risk youth at Arizona Boys Ranch.

Three years came and went, and Tucker started to develop fatigue from being a mentor to some difficult “students.”

He made the switch to teach children in a more positive and motivating environment at Hamilton.

Tucker started out as a substitute, but the demands on teachers increased and the paycheck didn’t.

Tucker had to provide for his family, so he became a Phoenix fireman.

He loved to work out and the training was very similar to being an athlete.

“It’s a natural fit for guys that are athletes. It just further carries on that aspect of your life you lose as an athlete, you pick up as a firefighter,” Tucker said.

He was recently promoted to engineer with E11 “C” Shift: “The guy who gets to drive the big red truck,” he joked.

He spends 24 hours every third day down at the station. His “team” is his family.

“The fire station is like a big locker room. We hang out, we cook together, we work out together,” Tucker added.

The longest and most current of all Tucker’s endeavors is being the offensive line coach at Hamilton. He started at the school when it first opened in 1998, and the rest is history.

“Coach Tuck is Hamilton football,” coach Mike Zdebski said.

Tucker loves Hamilton because he has never felt more accepted by his colleagues and he simply loves being around the kids.

He is driven by his ability to shape his players and prepare them for real-world problems and situations.

And after more than two decades, Tucker still feels right at home.

“It’s the people, it’s the kids, it’s not the building, but it’s everything about this building,” Tucker said.

It’s not just the football program that is successful, but as a whole, the school excels at almost everything they do.

The founding principal Fred DePrez had a vision and saw it though.

He wanted to develop a school that was the best in both academics and athletics. Everything is held at a very high standard.

Hamilton’s football program is central to the school as a whole and has full administration support.

DePrez found that “magic formula.”

With Hamilton, Tucker has seven state championships and is looking to grow that collection.

He describes his coaching style as “abrasive,” but “you got to love them up once you tear them down.”

“He preaches hard work, accountability and responsibility. We are fortunate to have the best line coach in Arizona,” Zdebski said.

Despite how long he has been at Hamilton, Tucker has no desire to become a head coach.

“A head coach of high school football now … they are not even coaches, they are CEOs … because they are involved in so much of the fundraising and dealing with the booster club. They are managing everything … they oversee the entire program, and to me that would take away what I bring to the table and how I connect to kids,” Tucker said.

At Hamilton, Tucker’s offensive line is referred to as Tuck’s Tanks and they are the foundation of what makes Hamilton football great.

“I know for a fact that I have built a solid reputation on this side of town being here as a substitute, a football coach, a mentor and an influence,” Tucker added.

“As an offensive lineman you are a protector of your quarterback and your running backs and … it branched off into these aspects of my life,” he said. “I guess you can say I like protecting people and the whole thing of protecting people, paying it forward, being a mentor and providing guidance to young people.”

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