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Darrick Tucker is beginning his eighth year with the Hamburg Lions program this fall. The difference is that this time he’ll be the one leading from the sidelines as interim coach.

The newly appointed football coach has roots that go back with the Lions program to his own playing days, when he was on the 1997 team that was undefeated in the conference and claimed the state runner-up title.

His coaching work with Hamburg began as a volunteer while he was a student at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, from which he ultimately holds a bachelor’s degree in K-12 education with a minor in criminal justice and a graduate level Master of Art in Teaching.

“I was aiming to be a football player, to play professionally,” Tucker said. “Along the way I had a family, which ended up taking me away from football and going into working.”

As part of that pull away from football, Tucker moved to Arizona, spending 12 years there. That was where he started working on the criminal justice aspect of his education.

But ultimately, Arizona wasn’t the right place, and Tucker returned to his native Ashley County.

“In 2008, I got a call that ‘we are looking for someone who is willing to work to help some kids,’ he said. “So I ended up with the Crossett School District for four years in the special needs classroom, doing one-on-one with students.”

During that time he was offered a volunteer role as a coach at his alma mater down the highway, and after four years he was able to move back professionally to the Hamburg district, where he was a bus driver, taught health, and served as the dean of students at HHS.

As a volunteer coach, he led the running back program. In his second year, he moved to the defensive line coach, and the third year he became the linebacker coach. Being back in the football program that had shaped him as a student felt good, he said.

“It was an honor to be able to live your life back where you are from and to be part of that organization again, as a coach and as a helper in the community, to have an opportunity to work with these kids,” he said.

Stepping into the role of interim head coach came late in the summer, just weeks before school. It was an opportunity for several coaches to try for the role, he said, but in the end Tucker walked out of the room with the job.

“It’s an opportunity to coach this football team we have been working with all year,” he said. “Having more experience here with the kids, it gives us a better opportunity for the kids to relate to me as a coach and a player who comes from this organization.”

Looking to the season, Tucker said he knows the direction the program needs to take to be able to compete in the 4AAAA system. In addition to new leadership on the sidelines, the team will have opportunities for players to demonstrate new leadership on the field since a significant number of seniors graduated last year.

“Coming into this season after last season, we graduated about 19 seniors, and pretty much all 19 were starters at some point. Both sides of the ball were basically a complete dump of players. We are very young coming into this season, and we don’t have many players who have live game experience at a varsity level.”

A lot of pre-season work has been focusing on technique, lifting weights and conditioning, or watching film.

“We are working on techniques that make them a better football player moving forward. Practicing against yourself can help you to an extent, but to improve, you need to go out against somebody who is better than you or somebody who is your equal on a daily basis,” Tucker said. 

On that note, the coach said the annual purple and white game, an intersquad scrimmage, was successful.

“We got a lot of good reps out of the players who were able to get on the field,” he said. “We showed their improvement over the course of this year, that they have been working out.” 

Tucker said he expects several squad members to be impact players on the field.

Looking to the defensive line, he expects senior Layne Neal — 5’11”, 238 pounds — to stand out.

“He is a returning starter; he started to peak a little bit and get his feet under him last year during the COVID season,” Tucker said. “He is playing in a main role as D-line, and backup on O-line. He is kind of an emotional player, very explosive, a strong and physical player for the defensive front.”

Sophomores Jackson Grubb — 6’0”, 274 — and Stratton Herring — 5’10’, 245 pounds — are Tucker’s picks for likely standouts on the offensive line.

“Both are 10th graders that got moved up and played high school and started during their ninth grade season and have a couple more years to be in the program; Jackson is left tackle, Straton is playing left guard,” he said.

Alex Jenkins will lead the offense as quarterback this year. 

“I think he has gotten better as an athlete, but also better as a passer and a quarterback,” Tucker said. “I am pretty sure everybody in the conference knows he has good speed, but he has a really good arm and he has been working on his ability to add technique to his throws.”

Jenkins plays on both sides of the ball and will likely also make an impact on defense, Tucker said. 

“Alex has a really big presence,” he said.

Others to watch will be senior Rahmir Baldwin — 5’11”, 176 pounds — and junior Tracker Whited, 5’9”, 160 pounds.

Baldwin, “will be an outstanding playmaker,” while Whited — who plays as a linebacker and the backup quarterback  “is really good at reading, a scraper who flies around making tackles from sideline to sideline and who has worked hard in the weight room to get stronger; he will be one of the best linebackers in the conference,” Tucker said.

The ultimate goal of the season, the coach said, is to promote athlete success.

“We want to get as much out of the kids on this team as we possibly can, to try to make them successful athletes as well as successful student athletes, making sure their grades are good and giving them the opportunity to go to college,” Tucker said.

Rounding out the coaching team this year are Daniel Smith at assistant line coach, Dre Lawson at assistant running back coach, Justin Hamilton at defensive line coach, Shannon Carter at offensive coordinator, and Devin Cecil at defensive coordinator.

 The Lions’ first conference game will be at home against Dewitt on Sept. 24.

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