Lake Nona freshman quarterback Tucker Israel has arrived.
Israel threw for 408 yards and five touchdowns in his team’s 34-14 victory against Cypress Creek this past Friday, giving the Lions their first win since Oct. 2009.
If reading ‘quarterback’ and ‘Israel’ in the same sentence invokes déjà vu, don’t worry. Tucker Israel is the cousin of former University High standout and UCF quarterback Kyle Israel.
It’s a connection that people make from time to time according to Tucker and that realization will become more frequent as he continues to put up lofty numbers. However, the cousins don’t want there to be a comparison when it’s all said and done.
“He was pretty good, I want to be better,” Tucker said of Kyle, who started at UCF in 2006 and 2007 while leading the Knights to their first C-USA championship in 2007. “But there’s no pressure on me just because he’s my cousin.”
Kyle feels the same way.
“I just think his overall talent as a whole is better than mine was (at his age,)” Kyle said. “I think I had a little bit more natural talent and I think he’s taken his natural talent and really developed it into something that could potentially be really special.”
A large part of Tucker Israel’s early success can be attributed to his cousin.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Tucker said. “He’s giving me tips and hints from college and it’s helped me because right now I’m learning the same stuff he learned in college.”
Kyle’s philosophy is to teach Tucker (6-0, 180) everything he learned in small doses and to make sure success doesn’t go to his cousin’s head.
“Everyone is going to say great things to him and talk highly about him and try to pump him up a little bit,” Kyle said. “But there’re a few people in his life who have to keep him grounded and I try to consider myself one of those people.”
Case in point: after Tucker’s five-touchdown, three-interception performance versus Cypress Creek, Kyle chose to focus on what Tucker could do better.
“I said ‘good job, congratulations,’” Kyle said. “But the next question was ‘what happened on those three interceptions?’”
Both Israels didn’t have much, or any, experience playing quarterback heading to high school. Tucker was a fullback/linebacker in youth football until he got to eighth grade, while Kyle didn’t line up behind center until he was a freshman at University.
“I was very raw, didn’t have a whole lot of anybody telling me what to do at the quarterback position before I made the move up to varsity,” Kyle said.
Kyle knows from his experience that Tucker will have his ups and downs, especially given the pressure that comes with being ‘the guy’ at such a young age. It’s something Tucker is learning to embrace with the support of his teammates and family.
“It’s a pretty good amount of weight (on my shoulders,)” Tucker said. “I just have to talk with everyone, they encourage me. My parents, mom and dad, it’s more stressful for them than it is for me, sitting in the stands. But it’s a pretty good amount of weight right there on my shoulders.”
Lake Nona coach Anthony Paradiso has had success developing quarterbacks, especially those who started playing the position later in their careers. Take Kevin Sousa, for example.
Sousa, the record-setting QB at Lake Nona for the past two years, was a soccer player when Paradiso found him. Sousa is now a roster-freshman quarterback at Wake Forest. There are eight QBs on the Demon Deacons' roster, three of which are true freshmen.
And Sousa is still wearing No. 8, even at Wake. So is Israel, back at Lake Nona.
The number holds high esteem and important significance as a quarterback under Paradiso's tutelage. It means you've arrived.
"All my starting quarterbacks wear No. 8," Paradiso said. "It kind of started off like the old Notre Dame thing where all their quarterbacks wore No. 3. My first quarterback chose No. 8 and so that's just what it has been."
So Sousa, the holder of all Lake Nona quarterback and offensive records, didn't have his number retired, but it was handed down.
"He's worked with Sousa before, actually," Paradiso said of Israel. "He's doing great so far. He's going to be a good one."