Welcome back, Willie Tucker.
After the Cal Poly’s standout receiver flirted with a possible transfer to another football program this past month, it seems the senior is staying put in San Luis Obispo after all.
“Right now, he’ll be back here in the fall,” Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said, “and we’re excited that he’ll be back.”
Looking to join a more conventional offense, Tucker was granted his release by Cal Poly and a media report quoted him accepting an offer to join Oregon State as a preferred walk-on before Tucker later clarified to The Tribune that he was still shopping around.
The options apparently included a return to the Mustangs, and since Walsh said he and Tucker parted on good terms, the coach was open to having Tucker back in the fold.
He said he had opportunities to walk on with Oregon State and Fresno State, but with spring practice set to open Saturday with a 10 a.m. practice at the Sports Complex, Tucker had a change of heart.
“I just weighed everything, and it just felt like this was the best for all scenarios,” Tucker said. “I’m just trying to finish off a good career here, and I feel like it’s the best opportunity with school, education and football, and I also have a group of brothers here. It feels like the right move to make.”
Tucker has been the biggest receiving threat for Cal Poly each of the past two years, despite playing only five games in 2013 before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Through those five games, Tucker had team-highs with 18 catches for 312 yards and added two touchdowns. The passing game wasn’t the same without him.
After missing all of the final seven games in a 6-6 season, Tucker still finished third on the Mustangs in catches and second in receiving yards.
As a sophomore in 2012, Tucker had 28 catches for 517 yards and seven touchdown catches to lead Cal Poly — the Big Sky Conference co-champion and an FCS playoff participant — in all categories.
Though Tucker changes the complexion of the Mustangs’ triple-option offense, there is still the matter of his knee injury.
He suffered an MCL tear in his left knee in the first half of a 23-10 loss to Yale in early October. That knee will not be healed in time to participate in spring drills, and Tucker may not see the field at all in 2014.
One of the byproducts of a potential transfer to another Division I program is that he would have had to sit out a season to comply with NCAA transfer regulations.
That would have allowed Tucker’s knee ample time to heal before having to play.
Cal Poly could certainly use his talents next season, but since Tucker is eligible to redshirt, Walsh may decide to grant him one depending on how the joint heals by the time the Mustangs start fall training camp in August.
Part of Tucker’s reasons for wanting the transfer were Cal Poly’s run-based offense. The Mustangs led the nation, rushing for 301.9 yards per game last season. After Tucker’s injury, Cal Poly had a 34-16 victory over UC Davis where the Mustangs completed just one of five passing attempts all game.
At the end of the season, Cal Poly ranked 114th out of 122 FCS teams with just 134.5 passing yards per game.
Regardless of the total numbers, expect Tucker to account for the largest chunk of them when he is able to return to the field.
“We talked about the redshirt thing, we talked about football and we want Willie Tucker,” Walsh said, “but we want to do the best for everybody. It’s not just about one person. Let’s not go backward. Let’s go forward. No hard feelings.
“I think it’s going to work out for the best for everybody.”