Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 19, 2007
By Myra Bean
Tavoris Tucker-Burdette, better known as Trey Tucker to his friends, sees himself as the Cougar team cheerleader.
His vocal enthusiasm for the team and the game makes him a big man among the team despite his 5’71/2” frame.
Behind Tucker is a strong family makeup. His mother, Vivian Burdette, two aunts Debra Hibbler and Sally Reed, and grandfather James Reed, combine to give him the added security and confidence he needs to succeed on the field.
“My mom, my mom, my mom,” Tucker said, shaking his head with a little smile playing around his mouth. “I don’t know what I would do without her.”
According to Tucker, those three women have always pushed him to go on.
“Every game, no matter how far or what time it is, they are the first ones in the stands – like they have reserved seats,” he said laughing. “I look up at the same spot every game and they are right there.”
He is his mother’s only child, but he has four brothers and three sisters through his father. They are all grown but Tucker said they keep in touch with him.
His grandfather, James Reed of Sardis, serves in the capacity of father to him.
“I can always go over to his house and talk to him no matter what it is. He plays the role of my father. I can depend on him for anything,” Tucker said.
His grandmother was the late Mattie Reed.
In addition to those family members, former Cougars Vonkeitrick Reed and Jarrell Lantern also play a big part in Tucker’s life and love for the game.
“They kind of inspired me to do what I do now and now I am ready to take it to another level,” he said.
Tucker also gets help on the weekends working out with Denard Presley, a recent North Panola graduate. Presley uses the stopwatch on his phone to time Tucker’s 40-yard dash.
“He timed me at 4.5 seconds but I don’t know how accurate that is,” Tucker said. “Denard might have graduated but he is always there helping me out.”
Cougar coach Vincent Johnson is happy with the progress he has seen in Tucker from last year through the spring season. North Panola has been taking part in several 7-on-7 camps and won the championship at Belhaven Friday night.
The team competed in the Ole Miss camp a couple of weeks ago and Johnson said the Cougars stood up to some high caliber competition.
In that Ole Miss camp, he saw where he could use Tucker on the offense as wide receiver as well as his position as cornerback.
“Michael Johnson had to take a couple of snaps and I moved into his spot,” Tucker said. “I like playing that, like handling the ball.”
When coach Johnson first came to North Panola last year, the first thing he saw was the “great work ethic” of Tucker.
“But his confidence was not where it should have been as a junior,” Johnson said. “Close to mid-season he came a long way. Now, he definitely mixes in his confidence with his work ethic.
“He could be a great player,” Johnson added. “He can get a lot of things done on the football field. He showed me in 7-on-7 that he will be able to help us out on offense also.”
Not only was that a “bright spot” for the Cougars at the 7-on-7, but Johnson also saw improvement in other areas.
“I think our guys competed well,” he said. “They did a great job over there. Played some pretty talented teams that we did well against. We didn’t lay down. I was very impressed with the way we competed.”
As for himself on the team, Tucker hopes to be seen as a role model, a leader.
“I would like to be seen as a role model, a great example for the younger athletes,” Tucker said. “They could learn from me and I learn from them.”
As for being a vocal and emotional person on the field and sideline, Tucker said it helps him and his team members a lot.
“It is easy for me to talk to other people, the team before the game, after the game,” he said. “I treat them like family. We are all players. That’s what we come out here to do. At the end of the day, we are just people, like family.”
He sees himself as the team cheerleader all the time.
“I might be louder than the cheerleaders when I catch it,” Tucker said. “I get excited like that. I’m into the game like that. Sometimes I feel it’s my job off the field on the sidelines. I feel like I am captain of the cheerleaders.”
Speaking of last year’s one win season, Tucker was introspective.
“During the game, we have so many things going on,” he said. “Someone will always make a mistake. That’s part of the game. Some guy comes over to the sideline and he’s all down on himself.
“I say, ‘Hey, that’s what we practice for. That’s what we are out here for, to get better. Don’t worry about it. Get back in the game, get your head on straight, get back in there and play ball,’” Tucker added.
“It helps a lot. I’m going to ag them on. When they do good, I’m going to be right there.”
Behind him when he makes mistakes and gets down is Bruce Wilbourn, tailback/safety.
“I have made a couple of mistakes and Bruce would come down from the safety position and say, ‘Man, don’t get down on yourself. It’s going to be alright.’”
Tucker’s answer to how a small person like him can earn a starting position on a football team and leave the big guys on the bench is work.
“I am the first one to practice, the last to leave,” he said. “Dedication and determination. I had to work hard, very hard. When you are only 5’71/2”, you have to work pretty hard.”
Working hard and being a role model and team leader is what Tucker said Johnson asked of the team.
“Step up and be able to lead by example. That’s something Coach Johnson would like us to do,” he said.
Tucker said his favorite high school team outside of North Panola is South Panola. His favorite professional team is the Washington Redskins. He likes the University of Memphis and hopes to play there.
“Good luck to Panola County football in the 2007-08 season,” he said.
Tucker has caught the attention of rivals.com and is listed as a recruit at the cornerback position. He is not ranked as of yet.