In 31 years at Freeport, Russ Cellan has coached hundreds of football players. It’s possible, in his opinion, that none can match the vision, creativity and elusiveness of Rashad Tucker.
“I think he may be the best open-field runner that I’ve ever coached,” Cellan said. “He just does things naturally that are just pretty amazing. He’s a very gifted athlete, and he has a real feel for doing this stuff.”
Tucker has been Freeport’s starting quarterback since the first round of the playoffs his freshman year, when Cellan called him up from JV because of an injury. Now a senior, Tucker was listed among Nassau Conference I’s top players on almost every survey Newsday received from those coaches.
“I don’t let any of that get to my head,” Tucker said. “I just try and do what I have to do to win. I don’t let my head get too swollen.”
The 5-10, 165-pounder who models his game after the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton, ran for 15 touchdowns and threw for 13 in 2015. But while running has come naturally, throwing has not. Tucker said he devoted his offseason to improving his passing mechanics and footwork in the pocket.
“I’m a better runner,” he said, “but if the passing game opens up we could be dangerous on offense.”
Jahred Wray, a senior running back and defensive back, said he has seen the manifestations of Tucker’s hard work in training camp.
“His arm’s really gotten a lot stronger since last year,” Wray said. “He can really throw the deep ball in there. He could throw the ball into tight spaces no problem now, and he’s really improved a lot at that.”
With Wray out of the backfield and a deep, experienced group of receivers highlighted by Nicolas Olivier, Jaelin Hood and Christ the King transfer Elyjah Campbell, Tucker has a bevy of targets in Freeport’s spread offense.
“[His improvement] could be a great boost because with the receivers we have and his arm strength now I don’t feel like any team’s secondary could stop us on the field,” Wray said.
The Red Devils went 4-5 last year, falling to eventual county champion Farmingdale in the first round of the playoffs. With Tucker and a handful of skilled seniors returning, Freeport earned the No. 4 seed heading into 2016.
But the team has one main question mark: how will an inexperienced line handle the varsity level?
For Cellan, it could be a lot worse. He could have a quarterback other than Tucker -- in other words, someone who actually needs consistent protection.
“Everything will not go as planned, I can guarantee,” Cellan said. “When things break down, when a play breaks down, he can make something out of nothing. I can’t tell you how big that is with an offense, how much that can help an offense. You know you don’t have to be perfect with that guy there.”