Ryan Tucker came into Major League Lacrosse with much fanfare. The former University of Virginia All-American was the fourth overall selection of the 2015 MLL Collegiate Draft – the No. 1 pick of the Boston Cannons.
Tucker enjoyed a solid rookie campaign with the Cannons while playing for his father who was the head coach. John Tucker was hired away to serve as general manager and head coach of the expansion Atlanta Blaze and brought his son along.
Ryan Tucker was the third pick of the 2016 MLL Expansion Draft and responded with a very productive season for the Blaze, totaling 24 points on 11 goals and 12 assists.
However, Tucker’s MLL career took a step backward last season. The Towson native was traded to the Chesapeake Bayhawks during the offseason and never quite found a fitting with his new team, appearing in just six games and posting only 10 points.
Tucker could have blamed the Bayhawks coaching staff for the fact he was inactive for eight of 14 games, but chose to take complete responsibility for the subpar season.
“I put it all on myself. I wasn’t in as good a shape as I needed to be and didn’t play consistently well enough to crack the lineup,” Tucker said this week. “It was a learning experience that made me realize I had a lot to work on. This might sound strange, but it was a great season for me personally because I learned a lot about myself.”
Tucker was determined to make a comeback and was pleased when the Bayhawks elected to retain his rights. He devoted more time to offseason workouts and came into training camp in much better condition in order to show head coach and general manager Dave Cottle that he made a good decision.
“I owe a lot to (owner) Brendan Kelly and Coach Cottle for showing confidence in me. That management would bring me back for another year really meant a lot. I want to perform well to justify their faith in my ability,” Tucker said. “It was just a matter of taking more ownership of my own development as a player. I spent a lot of time shooting, played more wall ball and went to the gym as much as possible.”
That commitment has paid dividends as Tucker has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2018 season for Chesapeake. The Gilman School graduate is third on the team with 10 goals, two of which have been 2-pointers.
Cottle praised Tucker for playing very efficiently and pointed out that he has committed just one turnover in five games.
“Productivity matters and Ryan has the best goal-to-turnover ratio on the team. I think that statistic speaks volumes about a player’s value,” Cottle said. “Ryan has always been a very smart, talented player. He has figured out a role with the Bayhawks this season and is doing a lot of good things.”
Cottle noted that Tucker has great range as a shooter, evidenced by the pair of 2-pointers. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound midfielder has earned a spot on the extra man unit by being an effective cutter.
Chesapeake has one of the most dangerous dodgers in Major League Lacrosse in midfielder Myles Jones. Attackman Steele Stanwick is an offensive quarterback operating behind the cage while running mates Josh Byrne and Matt Danowski also have the ball in their sticks quite a bit.
“We needed some guys to be good without the ball and Ryan has embraced that role,” Cottle said. “Ryan has become much better at moving off-ball and finding open space, which is important when you play on the same midfield line as Myles Jones.”
Tucker’s willingness to adapt his game to fit into the overall scheme has been contagious and a big reason why Chesapeake holds sole possession of second place in MLL with a 5-2 record. These Bayhawks have developed a close bond that has been displayed on the field.
“Obviously, the chemistry factor is crucial and I’ve just felt a lot more comfortable on this team from the get-go,” Tucker said. “All the guys get along really well and truly care about each other. It has been that way since the start of training camp. This Bayhawks team just feels different in all the best ways possible. It has been a really fun season so far.”
When Cottle was head coach at the University of Maryland he recruited Tucker out of Gilman and got to know the youngster fairly well. Cottle kept Tucker on the Chesapeake roster throughout the offseason because he respected the youngster’s character, work ethic and mental makeup.
“I think Ryan is one of the most incredible teammates I’ve ever been around. He is always cheering for other players, whether he’s in uniform or not,” Cottle said. “Ryan has been hustling like crazy, battling for ground balls and making all sorts of effort plays. Being on the Bayhawks is important to Ryan and it shows in his play.”
Tucker credits his sense of teamwork and positive attitude to his mother – longtime Johns Hopkins women’s lacrosse coach Janine Tucker.
“I owe it mostly to my amazing mother, who has always shown so much enthusiasm and energy. I try to channel her in that way,” Tucker said. “My mother taught me that a lot more good can come from being positive, uplifting and supportive. There is a time for constructive criticism, but it needs to be balanced by confidence-building.”
Tucker, who was rated the nation’s No. 10 overall recruit coming out of Gilman School, was an Under Armour All-American and played for the United States Under-19 national team. He won the fastest shot contest at the Warrior Top 40 game in Boston, unleashing a 97 MPH blast.
Tucker scored 77 career goals at Virginia, ranking eighth in program history among midfielders. He was named a third team All-American as a senior and was a three-time selection to the Atlantic Coast Conference All-Academic team.
Despite all those tremendous accolades, Tucker has a hard time living up to the legacy of his father. John Tucker was an All-American midfielder at Johns Hopkins University and key member of the 1984 national championship team. He helped the U.S. national team capture three Federation of International Lacrosse world championships, and was selected as Most Outstanding Midfielder of the 1990 tournament.
Tucker, a two-time captain of Team USA, also played seven seasons of professional indoor lacrosse with the Philadelphia Wings, capturing two championships and two Most Valuable Player awards. He was inducted into the US Lacrosse National Hall of Fame in 2016.
“I’d have to say I learned toughness and grit from my dad. I didn’t get the opportunity to watch him play as much as I would have liked, but from what I’ve heard and the short video clips I’ve seen, it’s obvious he was an incredibly tough player,” Ryan Tucker said. “I use my father a role model for the player I aspire to be.”
John Tucker also made coaching a career and has enjoyed tremendous success at both the high school and professional level. The elder Tucker served as head coach at Gilman, Loyola-Blakefield and Severn School – capturing four MIAA A Conference championships along the way. As a Major League Lacrosse head coach, Tucker has led the Los Angeles Riptide, Chesapeake Bayhawks, Boston Cannons and Atlanta Blaze.
“I’ve learned a lot of little nuances about the game from my dad. Whenever I can have a meaningful conversation about lacrosse with him, it is very worthwhile and usually results in me uncovering a new tidbit about the game,” Ryan Tucker said. “My dad has always been the best coach and most supportive father I could ask for, along with one of my biggest fans.
Ryan Tucker has already authored several signature moments this season, scoring several key goals that sparked Chesapeake to victory. He produced what Cottle has described as “a candidate for goal of the year” against Florida – hustling to split two defenders to snag a ground ball then shooting from his knees while stumbling to the turf.
“I saw the ball on the ground and I just went for it. I realized I was close to the goal and was falling while I scooped up the ball,” Tucker recalled. “There was only one play I could make and luckily I did. It was fun to see my teammates get fired up about that goal.”
Last Saturday, Tucker ripped a powerful 2-pointer that quickly reduced a three-goal deficit and started a decisive 8-1 run that propelled the Bayhawks past the defending champion Ohio Machine.
“I was the total benefactor of a broken play during a substitution situation. Josh Byrne dodged and drew a defender and I was all alone coming in from the midfield line,” Tucker said. “As shooters we were talking about skipping the ball because we’d just had a long rain delay. I just shot as hard as I could and was able to skip the ball past (goalkeeper) Kyle Bernlohr.”
Tucker is following in the footsteps of his parents by pursuing teaching and coaching. He works full-time at Norfolk Academy, teaching history while coaching soccer and lacrosse. It was an opportunity that came courtesy of Tom Duquette, a former Virginia lacrosse standout who coached Tucker with the U.S. Under-19 squad.
“Coach Duquette contacted me right before I graduated Virginia and encouraged me to apply for a position at Norfolk Academy,” Tucker said. “I cannot thank Coach Duquette enough for giving me a great recommendation. He is an unbelievable person, an unbelievable coach and an unbelievable mentor. It’s like having a second father while I am down there living in Virginia Beach.”
Tucker is spending this summer working camps and tournaments for ADVNC Lacrosse, a comprehensive West Coast program operated by former Virginia standout Chris Rotelli. Tucker is flying in from California to play in Saturday night’s Bayhawks home game against the Atlanta Blaze then turning around and flying back to Lake Tahoe.