By Tony Burns
Senior receiver Taliq Ellis came all the way from Nebraska to give El Dorado’s offense a booster shot this football season. The Wildcats also received a shot in the arm on defense during the off-season. Senior linebacker Tyrek Rucks didn’t travel as far as Ellis but his impact has been just as big.
Rucks transferred from Smackover to El Dorado in April and opened the season as a starting linebacker in the Wildcats’ 4-2-5 defensive scheme. He finished the regular-season as the team’s second-leading tackler, despite missing a game due to an injury.
“Tyrek adds a confidence, a physicalness, intelligence - all of those attributes, he brings to the table,” said El Dorado defensive coordinator Justin Wylie. “Week-in, week-out, he’s a very smart player. He may get fooled on something but it’s not going to happen all night long.”
Rucks has totaled 68 tackles, including 46 unassisted, with 11 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two sacks, an interception and a fumble return for a touchdown.
He took transferring from a 3A school to a 6A program in stride.
“It wasn’t really difficult. It was different because it was a lot bigger but I adjusted fine,” said Rucks. “I just wanted to get into a bigger system so I could get more exposure. It was tough because of my friends and stuff. But, they live right down the road so I can always go and see them.”
Rucks played running back and defensive end for the Buckaroos. At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, his size and speed made him a perfect fit at linebacker at El Dorado.
“He has a ton of experience does that for us some, too,” said Wylie. “His skill-set fits us better in our scheme playing off the ball so he can impact the run and pass. We just felt like he was more versatile than just having him play defensive end all night.”
Changing schools is one thing. Changing positions is another.
“I was kind of nervous because I felt like linebackers had a super, big responsibility. I was new to it because I’d been playing defensive line since I was in seventh grade,” said Rucks. “I think I’m pretty comfortable now. It took a couple games of me adjusting but, after a couple of games, I feel like I’ve got it down pat, now.”
This season, Rucks’ speed was on display going sideline-to-sideline, especially, against the pass. Against run-heavy offenses, he was a destructive force going downhill and lowering the boom.
“I’m more free. It fits me more than defensive end because I can move around and use my ability and speed a little more instead of going straight ahead and trying to push over the defensive line to try and get to the ball,” said Rucks.
“It’s not easy,” Wylie said of the transition from end to linebacker. “It’s playing in space whereas, defensive end, space is not as much of a factor. He has to be good in space as opposed to walling a guy, collision a guy, tackling in space. All of that is different. It’s not an easy transition to go from defensive line to linebacker. He was extremely smart early in the process. We could show him things on the board that he had never done before and he could go out and do it. He has a good football knowledge.”
Rucks has been happy with the move. Even happier, however, was his father, former El Dorado player Andre Rucks. His father, known as “Gator” started at linebacker on the Wildcats’ undefeated, number one ranked team in 1991.
“He wanted me to try to out-do him when he was in high school,” said Tyrek, who was given the nickname “Bone crusher” by his father for his bone-jarring hits.
The younger Rucks was asked why his nickname wasn’t similar to his father’s, perhaps Little Gator or Young Crocodile.
He laughed, “No, that’s what they used to call him. I like making big hits, getting the crowd into it.”
The bone crusher certainly made his own name this season for the Wildcats. Already with offers from Stephen F. Austin and Eastern Illinois, he’s hoping to take that name to the next level.
“I’m waiting on UCA to go ahead and offer and LA Tech has been sending a lot of mail,” he said. “So, hopefully, they’ll give me an offer, too.”
El Dorado hosts Searcy in the second round of the 6A playoffs on Friday.