The wide receiver position is a major key to success in football. Throughout the years, Oregon has had many well-known WRs become very successful. One receiver in particular shined brightly at Oregon in only a two-year career (JC transfer) and made a greater mark in that time than many. Having the Oregon great Joey Harrington to throw his way greatly aided his success, as he was one of Harrington’s favorite targets. Please welcome 1999-2000 renowned wideout Marshaun Tucker.
Q. WHAT SCHOOLS WERE RECRUITING YOU, AND WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO BE A DUCK?
A. “I had a handful of schools. First verbally committed to Arizona State, but felt Oregon was a better fit due to the camaraderie and team chemistry. ASU was packed at receivers, while Oregon was thin, which meant more playing time guaranteed.”
EARLY DAYS AT OREGON
Tucker came to Oregon in 1999. The renowned No. 5 legacy had to be carried on, as Damon Griffin had just graduated after an outstanding (1994-1998) career. On top of that, Oregon was thin at the receiver position, having also graduated two-year letterman Donald Haynes, as well as having 1998 freshman standout Bobby Nero dismissed for academic reasons.
Only senior Tony Hartley returned as a veteran wideout, and only reserve Ray Brust had any other significant experience. While legendary Reuben Droughns returned to carry the load on the ground, many wondered about Oregon’s chances for success in the passing game, having lost so many receivers as well as the great Akili Smith at QB.
While the ongoing QB battle heated up between AJ Feeley and Joey Harrington all of fall camp, the receivers battled equally as hard to learn the ropes. Tucker, coming in as a JC transfer had a lot to learn, but was up to the task.
Tucker made his presence felt in the first game at Michigan State. He played a major role in his first game, as starting QB AJ Feeley had a new target for several key receptions. Wanting to avenge being blown out the previous year at Autzen, Michigan State gave Oregon its best game at home.
The Ducks played tough and tied it into the fourth, but a late fumble by Oregon gave the Spartans the winning touchdown. Tucker, however, finished his first NCAA game with four receptions for 50 yards. The following week, Oregon got on track against Texas El Paso, winning 47-28, and Tucker had a great first home game with several key receptions.
He picked up the pace his second home game in a win over Nevada as the team’s leading receiver, having four receptions for nearly 100 yards and his first two touchdowns in impressive fashion (one for 26 yards, the other for 51).
As the season wore on, Oregon had a few mid-season struggles, but quickly got back on track in impressive fashion. At UCLA, Oregon seemed doomed down 34-10; when an interception return for a touchdown gave Oregon momentum.
Feeley and company put together an impressive three score comeback to cut the deficit to 34-29. Tucker was a leading receiver in the game, and aided greatly in the comeback.
Oregon had the ball the final drive with 1:16 left on the clock, starting from their own 11. Feeley and company put together an impressive drive to the UCLA 34, when Feeley hit Tucker again on a diving reception at the one. However, time was Oregon’s only enemy from there as the clocked ticked to zero.
Heartbreak for the Ducks — one yard short of victory as time expired.
Nevertheless, the Ducks took the momentum from the comeback and used it to their advantage — never losing again all season.
Next up, Oregon concluded its road obligations with a convincing 44-41 shootout victory in the desert over Arizona. Tucker had nearly 100 yards receiving on only five receptions, including one in the final game-winning drive to set up a field goal.
The following week, Oregon returned home to face Arizona State. A struggle, Oregon led most of the game, but trailed as ASU took a 17-13 lead with 1:04 to play. Joey Harrington came off the bench to lead the Ducks on a comeback drive (and win the starting QB job, BTW). Tucker dropped the first pass thrown his way, but atoned with nine seconds remaining on a 29-yard touchdown reception for the game winning score (20-17).
Despite only starting two games, Tucker finished 1999 second place in total receiving behind only Hartley. Oregon won its final six games, including the Sun Bowl; being the only Pac-10 team to win a bowl that year, and finished with the best overall record at 9-3. Tucker averaged 15 yards/catch, had the longest reception of the year at 51 yards, and netted nearly 500 yards, second-highest on the team.
2000 was a very memorable year at Oregon. Oregon opened with a convincing 36-7 rout over Nevada. At Wisconsin, Tucker led the way in the second game with nearly 200 yards on only six receptions. Oregon dominated the game statistically, but fell just short of victory in a heartbreaking 27-23 loss. The Ducks rebounded by dominating two N0. 6 teams at home (UCLA and Washington) in consecutive weeks. Tucker really stepped up his game, due to an unknown fact he has just made public after 13 + years:
“Pat Johnson (receiver predecessor) came back from NFL bye week and mentored me. I really struggled against Wisconsin. After the Wisconsin game, we played Idaho and I struggled again with drops. Then came the UCLA week. Pat Johnson had a bye week and came out to visit when he worked with me at practice and the film room.
“Pat mentored me all week, we worked out together, and as we watched film – he told me, ‘You’re thinking too much.’ Pat didn’t have to do that, but he did. In addition to that, he offered to help work on other route-running techniques.
“I never told anyone this – when the Arizona game came, Pat Johnson showed me a type of basketball jab-step move that I ran. Watching film, you can see what I did, and used it for the rest of the season! Post routes were like my money-maker, and that’s all I did the rest of the season! It was great.”
Indeed, his already-successful game improved, as he was a star receiver in every game to come. Oregon faced USC on the road (where few Oregon teams previously came out victorious). Tucker had the second most yardage in receptions with 80 yards in only four receptions to average 20/catch and win 28-17. The next week against Arizona, Tucker was the star of the night, having the only two touchdowns of the night (one from 25 yards from Harrington, another from 20) in a tight 14-10 victory.
The following week, the infamous “Desert Miracle” shootout over Arizona State took place. Tucker was the star of the game in receiving yards, having an amazing 11 receptions for 140 yards and a “hat-trick” of three touchdowns. Tucker’s third touchdown was of 32 yards with under five minutes left to pull Oregon within one score, 49-42. (Oregon would later tie the score to send to the game to OT.)
Tucker recalls the confidence of the entire team and the ability to stay calm under pressure. “We never panicked during games. When the times came, I had to catch the ball. Those are big plays in a game you have to make, and we were fairly consistent with that not only that game but throughout the season.”
Oregon’s defense struggled to stop ASU’s offense, but Tucker and company made it no easier on ASU’s defense in the famous, tight, come-from-behind 56-55 overtime thriller.
Things didn’t get any easier for the Ducks as Washington State gave them another run for their money the following week in the Pullman snow. The seventh-ranked Ducks were again in jeopardy, down eight points, 24-16. For the second consecutive week, another fourth quarter comeback was needed.
Marshaun Tucker was up to that challenge. From the WSU 40, Harrington threw a terrific strike. Tucker beat his defender to catch the ball around the WSU seven yard line and used his speed to run it in from there.
“We were fired up,” recalls Tucker. “We pretty much knew I had to sell the out route. Once I did that, the corner reacted to the out, I turned and beat the defender on Joey’s half-pump, and Joey timed it well. Hit me right in stride.” The two point conversion was good, and Oregon beat WSU 27-24 in OT. Tucker earned player of the week with nine catches for 142 yards.
In Tucker’s final home-game win over California, he once again led the team in yards receiving with 118 yards in only six catches — many in third-down/jeopardy situations — to leave Autzen in style. Oregon went on to win a share of the Pac-10 and won a tight 35-30 shootout over Texas in the Holiday Bowl. Tucker finished the year tied with Keenan Howry with most receptions; and led the team in total yards receiving with 882 (avg 73.5/game), as well as most touchdowns receiving with six.
Q. WHAT WAS YOUR PERSONAL BEST PERFORMANCE? WHAT WAS THE MOST MEMORABLE PART?
A. “Arizona State and Wisconsin. I think I had my personal best game against Wisconsin — 6 or 8 catches for 190 yards; but unfortunately we lost at the last minute. Other than that, both Arizona State games (1999 & 2000) were pretty memorable. Especially 1999; just my first year there. Joey came off the bench to lead us back, with less than one minute left. He did an amazing job of leading us back. I had the winning TD, but I dropped a ball the previous play! Was nice to have a second chance to make that the most memorable play.”
Q. FROM A TEAM STANDPOINT, WHAT GAME DID YOU AND THE TEAM HAVE THE BEST PERFORMANCE?
A. “Though the Arizona State Desert Miracle was amazing, people forget that we played Arizona the week before. They were very dominant, ranked in the Top-10, and atop of the Pac-10. That was a great team effort. Mallard had that amazing hit. Ortege Jenkins (dual threat) was their QB. Being able to play them to win and claim the only undefeated spot in conference was great. I scored both TDs. To keep that momentum in the rest of the season was a building block for us being successful and into the next year – we never would have beaten ASU the following week otherwise.
‘A lot of fans don’t see the nuances of the game. Coming (from the time Jeff Tedford and Chris Peterson) we completely changed our routes because of the way Arizona played. They were a very strong cover team. It was great to have them tell us at practice what to expect, and to actually see it on the field.”
[Note: Tucker had two first-quarter touchdown receptions to lead Oregon to a 14-0 advantage; Arizona scored 10 in the second quarter; and the rest of the game was a defensive battle with no score in the second half. FINAL: 14-10, Oregon.]
Q. WHAT DID YOUR POSITION COACH TELL YOU THAT STICKS OUT THE MOST? DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIFIC STORIES ABOUT YOUR POSITION COACH?
A. “For me, I was very lucky to be coached by Chris Peterson (who went to Boise State, now at UW). What was interesting about him was that he had the energy of a 20 year-old, but he was not 20 at all! He would come with such passion and energy for the game, and when it came time to really focus on coaching us and teaching us everything we needed to know from route running to reading a defense — just to name a few — he was one of the best to do it.
“It takes a new incoming athlete time to get a feel for the speed of the game. CP would teach us how to use that to our advantage. It didn’t matter if you were young, he did a great job educating us on how to be a good student of the game, and to take that from the film room and apply it on the field. Newcomers like me (and Keenan as a true freshman) caught on quickly, thanks to Peterson.”
Q. HOW DOES THE CURRENT TEAM COMPARE TO WHEN YOU PLAYED?
A. The current Duck team is completely different. Lots of teams have changed, but the Ducks run the spread now with many receivers and often an empty set. It’s a lot faster. We were more of a pro-style pass team managing the game, and diverse between runs and passes. The speed is a lot faster, and they just run a completely different style than we did. I can only imagine what the conditioning is with Jimmy Radcliffe!
COACH RADCLIFFE MEMORIES:
“When I first came to Oregon was in summer workouts. We were working out on the field in the sun, and I thought I was in shape having been through JC. Jimmy had us going through these sand workouts. I probably only lasted 15-20 minutes and I was on the sidelines sick! Jimmy came over and said, ‘You’re not in as good of shape as you thought you were, are you son?!’ You’ve gotta give Jimmy and his staff credit for playing a good role in our success for our true conditioning. They don’t get enough credit.”
Q. IF YOU COULD CHANGE ANY ONE THING ABOUT YOUR TIME PLAYING FOR OREGON, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
A. If I could change one thing, it would be that I wish I’d had four years (or five with redshirt) to play here at Oregon (instead of the first at JC). Being able to have Peterson for the full time would be big. He and I had a conversation about this once, and he goes ‘I REALLY wish I had you the full four years’ given I was really gaining strides. I was young when it came time to football knowledge, but was really improving. So, I really wish I’d had a five-year career here at Oregon.
POST OREGON DAYS/WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Tucker prepared hard for the NFL draft in 2001. He made it as a free agent, and had a stint with the Tennessee Titans and New York Giants. After tearing his thumb, he was cut by the Giants. The CFL was a stepping stone, as Tucker was with the Calgary Stampede and BC Lions until 2003 before deciding to hang up the cleats. He could have kept pursuing, but saw his family situation and a brighter light on the other side. According to Tucker, “No matter the adversity, there’s life on the other side. The strong mentality gives us the ability to be productive.” Tucker returned to Eugene to finish what he started, completing his bachelor’s degree (in the Sociology field) in 2004.
Marshaun Tucker is back in Eugene, happily settled with a family. He and his wife Daija have been married nearly 14 years, and have three kids: Marshaun II, Kenadee, and Samarra. For a career beyond football, Marshaun returned to college to pursue his master’s degree in the education field. It was a good calling for the man who became a school counselor in the Eugene schools, where the kids were very inspired by his leadership from 2008-2012. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, the schools had to downsize. However, he has since found other employment and is now happily employed for a local company as an inside sales rep. He also continues his football involvement as a high school football coach.
A Special Thanks to Mr. Tucker for taking the time for this interview, for always being so appreciative of his fans and for his outstanding career at Oregon.
Main photo by John Giustina