Justin Tuck #91 of the New York Giants gets the...

Justin Tuck #91 of the New York Giants gets the crowd fired up in the third quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium on October 6, 2013 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (photo by Mike Stobe) Credit: Mike Stobe

I’ve been to many, many off-the-field events headlined by Justin Tuck over the last few years, which says a lot more about his commitment to the community than my doggedness in reporting about him. From his Tuck’s RUSH for Literacy campaign to other endeavors with school-aged kids, he always has time to talk to the students, pose for pictures, sign autographs, hand out books and, of course, give a few encouraging words. But today at Maxson Middle School in Plainfield, NJ, for an NFL Play 60 event, I saw him do something I’d never seen in this type of setting before.

He had fun.

Instead of just watching and chatting, Tuck was participating. He was down on the ground doing pushups with the kids (he had better form than they did). He was running and jumping over cones on a mini obstacle course. And at one point he even tackled a student running in a relay-race (the whistle blew before he could bring the youngster to the ground).

“A lot of times we forget how much fun you had as a kid,” Tuck said. “To come back out and relive those moments, that’s huge.”

He was talking about reliving middle school moments, but Tuck is also reliving some of the success he found early in his career. This season he’s playing the best football he has sin the last several years and he said today that he hasn’t felt this comfortable on the field – in terms both physically and mentally – since late in the 2009 season. And he went to the Pro Bowl in 2010!

Tuck said his message to the students was to enjoy their time as youngsters.

“When I was a kid I always wanted to grow up,” he said. “Now you wish you could go back to those moments when you were so care-free.”

In a way he has with the Giants. He’s healthy for the first time since 2010, and he no longer has to carry the burden of the Giants defensive captaincy alone. He now shares the C with Antrel Rolle, and has yielded a lot of the bullhorn aspects of the job to the safety. That has allowed Tuck to be the kind of leader he always wanted to be, one who leads by example and quietly pulls players aside when they need a few words of encouragement. Sort of like he did on Sunday when Hakeem Nicks was steaming on the sideline. Tuck came up to him, said a few words, and moved on. Nicks responded to that (and the encouragement of others) and returned to the game to be productive.

None of Tuck’s evident joy would be happening now if the Giants were not riding a four-game winning streak. A month or so ago, it may have been difficult for him to enjoy himself on a morning like this one in Plainfield.

But the Giants are back. And so, to a certain extent, is Tuck.

“It’s easy to come out and smile,” he said. “If it’s the other way around, you have to make up those smiles but today was pretty easy considering the way we’ve played. Hopefully we’ll continue to do so.”

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