DeKalb grad Cole Tucker hoping to get on the field in final NIU game

NIU wide receiver Cole Tucker streaks downfield in the Huskies' 38-35 loss to Tulsa on Sept. 10, 2022 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

DeKALB – There’s only one game left for Cole Tucker in his Northern Illinois career as the Huskies prepare to wrap up the 2022 season against Akron.

But the senior receiver from DeKalb missed last week’s game, and his status is unknown for this week. So he may be a spectator instead of playing in his final college game.

“It’s frustrating,” Tucker said. “I’ve been healthy the whole year, thought it was a minor thing, turned out to be a little more than that. Getting able to spend every day with the guys over the last week, cherishing the time I have with them left, it’s been important for me.”

Tucker said no matter how much he hurts, he’s going to try to play. Adding to the motivation is Tucker’s career stats. He has 1,997 career receiving yards. Only seven Huskies have eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark for their career, most recently Kenny Golladay in 2015-16.

Head coach Thomas Hammock said playing Saturday in front of his home crowd and getting a shot at the milestone is important for the senior.

“I think it would mean everything,” Hammock said. “I think he’s 3 yards away from 2,000 yards for his career. Hopefully he can make a catch, fall forward and finish his career the right way.”

Tucker joined the Huskies in 2017. After a redshirt season, he had 18 catches for 156 yards in 2018. After that, the coach who recruited him, Rod Carey, left for Temple, and Hammock came on board.

In 2019 Tucker had his first career touchdown catch, part of a 38-catch, 531-yard season. The COVID-19 year of 2020 didn’t count against his eligibility, and his past two years he has been a top option for quarterback Rocky Lombardi – or Lombardi’s backups when he’s been injured.

He has 41 catches each of the past two seasons – 575 yards and three scores last year, 599 yards and four touchdowns this season.

“He’s Mr. Consistent,” Hammock said. “He’s a guy we can always count on. He’s battled through injuries and other things, but you know what you’re going to get from him every game day. That’s a testament to him, that’s a testament to how he was raised, and we’re going to miss him.”

Tucker is one of three players from the 2017 recruiting class left on the roster, along with tight end Liam Soraghan and defensive end Mike Kennedy.

There was a lot of turnover with the players when the coaching staffs switched.

“It never really crept into my mind,” Tucker said. “Once I heard Carey was leaving, I wasn’t thinking about leaving. I’ve loved Hammock and his staff and what they’ve brought. Obviously, I do not regret staying here whatsoever. It’s been awesome.”

There’s been a lot of ups and downs in the program during Tucker’s time with the team. There were two Mid-American Conference titles. There was a losing 2019 followed by a winless 2020. There was the MAC title last year, and then the difficulties that have come with following that title with an injury-plagued season that will end with no more than four wins.

“I think it’s been a roller coaster for us,” Tucker said. “We came in 7-5 in 2017, MAC championship 2018, down year 2019, 0-6 in 2020, MAC championship in 2021, then obviously this year. We’ve brought a lot of resilience and fortitude to the program. We’ve done a lot of things together, we’ve worked hard every day.

“Obviously, there’s not as many of us left that came in, but the guys I’m here with, Mike, Liam and obviously [linebacker Kyle Pugh has] been here with us. It’s been a great time with those guys.”

Tucker said he’ll remember the experience of last year’s turnaround and the culmination of getting to play in Orlando, Florida in a bowl game as one of the top experiences of his career.

“Last year, coming off 0-6, that was pretty special,” Tucker said. “Then the Cure Bowl didn’t go our way, but being able to finish the year that week with our team, that was one of the best weeks of my life. Being able to hang down there at Universal Studios with all my teammates was awesome. The game was incredible to play in even though it didn’t turn out how we wanted it to.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” he said. “I’ve got no regrets in anything that we’ve done. Two MAC championships, so many memories, so many lifelong friends here. It’s been amazing.”

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