Cole Tucker leaves a lasting legacy at NIU

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Northern Star File Photo

Redshirt senior wide receiver Cole Tucker runs on the field during the second half of NIU’s 115th homecoming game against the University of Toledo Rockets on Oct. 8 at Huskie Stadium. Tucker played his final game at NIU on Saturday, becoming the eighth player in NIU history to reach 2,000 receiving yards on his career. (Northern Star File Photo)

By Joseph Segreti, Sports Reporter

DeKALB – The past six years of redshirt senior wide receiver Cole Tucker’s playing career have allowed one of NIU’s hometown heroes to expand upon his rich history of catching passes in DeKalb.

Once a star wideout for DeKalb High School Barbs, Tucker has spent six seasons at NIU football climbing the program’s receiving leaderboard and contributing to two Mid-American Conference championship teams. Two head coaches and several quarterbacks later, Tucker’s football journey at NIU has reached its final destination.

“I loved my experience here…I wouldn’t trade my experience here for anything,” Tucker said in Saturday’s postgame press conference. “I’ve had the time of my life at Northern Illinois. I think the people here are special. DeKalb is a special place and, you know, I didn’t really realize that growing up…but I made the best decision of my life to attend NIU.”

Tucker cracks career milestone in senior swansong

Tucker played his final snaps as a college football player in Saturday’s season finale against the University of Akron Zips at Huskie Stadium. He had four receptions for 33 yards in NIU’s 44-12 loss.

Tucker’s first catch of the day – a three-yard pass from freshman quarterback Nevan Cremascoli – allowed him to reach 2,000 career receiving yards. He joined former Huskie receivers like Justin McCareins, Da’Ron Brown and Kenny Golladay on the list of NIU players to achieve such a feat.

A career close to home

Tucker has called DeKalb home his entire life. Tucker was born here and played high school football for the DeKalb High School Barbs.

Tucker’s parents are NIU alumni. His father, Brett Tucker, won letters in football, earning them in 1985 and 1987 through 1989. Cole Tucker’s mother, formerly Cindy Hemstad, was a three-letter winner in gymnastics at NIU. She was also a member of the 1991 gymnastics team that was inducted into the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.

“They didn’t pressure me to come to NIU,” Tucker said. “I think when I did they were very excited because I am close to home and they can come to all the games.”

Tucker redshirted in his first season at NIU in 2017. He made his first career catch against the University of Iowa — a 13-yard gain – in NIU’s season opener on Sept. 1, 2018.

A season to remember

Tucker has been a key factor in the Huskie offense over his six-year career. He contributed to two Mid-American Conference title-winning teams in 2018 and 2021, the latter being his best statistical season. Tucker played in nine games that season and had a career-high 41 receptions, 41,575 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

Tucker said his favorite memory from playing football for NIU was last year’s MAC championship win. He said that last year was more special than the championship he was a part of in 2018 due to the fact that the Huskies were coming off a winless season with no expectations of winning a championship.

Tucker’s three receiving scores that year came during some of the biggest matchups on NIU’s schedule. He caught NIU’s lone touchdown in a 63-10 loss to the then-No. 3 ranked University of Michigan. Tucker took a 58-yard pass to the house to tie the NIU’s rivalry battle with Ball State University at 17 just before halftime. The Huskies went on to reclaim the Bronze Stalk Trophy with a game-winning kick by redshirt junior kicker John Richardson.

Tucker was named to the 2021 All-MAC Academic team, was an honorable mention All-MAC player and had two 100-yard receiving games.

Leading by example

Tucker is seen as one of the leaders for this team, with teammates and coaches commenting on how he showcases his work ethic and drive every day.

“When hard work meets opportunity, good things can happen,” wide receivers coach Joseph Hawkins said. “He’s worked hard, and now everyone has been able to see it this year, and he is staying healthy and taking care of all the necessary prerequisites in order to stay healthy throughout the whole season.”

Tucker caught 155 passes during his storied NIU playing career, racking up 2,030 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. His longest career touchdown was a 70-yard catch-and-run during the third quarter of NIU’s loss to Vanderbilt University on Sept. 17.

With Tucker’s final season of college football in the books, the thought of playing football in the NFL is possible.

“Obviously, he would like to keep playing as long as he can,” offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness said. “You can control what you can control, and what he can control is make sure he’s in the best shape, be ready to go when whatever opportunity comes, and I think that he’ll get an opportunity – and he needs to be ready to make the most of it.”

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