Oct. 1, 2010
By Brittany McCormick, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
As the starting cornerback for the Michigan State Spartans, senior Chris L. Rucker knows what it's like to be on the field with 20 other players - and still feel like he's all alone.
"When you are in the cornerback position, you're on an island by yourself most of the time," said Rucker, who regularly defends the opponents' top receiver. "It's a pressure position. I like to be able to be in an important position like that where your teammates are depending on you."
And it's a good thing his teammates do depend on him. The 6-2, 200-pound Warren, Ohio, product is the most experienced member of the Spartan secondary, having started 27 games throughout his career, including four as a true freshman in 2007. A three-year letterwinner, he has recorded 151 tackles, 15 pass break-ups and four interceptions. Being the team's leading cornerback is a stressful position, but Rucker enjoys every second of it.
"There are some ups and downs about being a cornerback," he said. "If you give up a play, you just have to forget about it and continue to play. I enjoy guarding the opposing team's best receivers and making it so my guys up front can make big plays."
One of Rucker's most memorable plays for Michigan State came during last year's Michigan game at Spartan Stadium. In overtime against the Wolverines, Rucker picked off a pass thrown in the end zone by quarterback Tate Forcier. On the ensuing possession, quarterback Kirk Cousins handed the ball off to Larry Caper, who rushed 23 yards for the game-winning touchdown to secure MSU's 26-20 victory.
"It was great," recalled Rucker. "It was a big, big play because it put the team in position to get the win, especially in the point of the game where we really needed it. We wanted to make sure we got that win so we could beat them two years in a row. I feel like that interception was really a big play and knowing that it helped my teammates just made it more special."
Rucker also had one of his biggest games in MSU's thrilling 34-31 overtime victory last week against Notre Dame, compiling a career-high 12 tackles, forcing a fumble and recording two pass break-ups.
With his speed, agility and knack for having a hand in game-changing plays, it seems as though Rucker has been playing cornerback his whole life. Since starting football at age 8, he has tried out a few other positions to say the least. After giving running back, receiver, linebacker, fullback, and tight end a shot, Rucker finally settled on cornerback. He has his mother to thank for getting him into football to begin with.
"My mom got me started playing sports when I was younger," said Rucker. "Ever since then she has been my biggest supporter, my biggest fan and even my biggest critic. Even when I mess up, she lets me know about it. That has really helped me throughout my career."
Coming out of high school, Rucker was ranked among both the nation's top cornerbacks and Ohio's top 50 seniors by Rivals.com. It was always a dream of his to compete in the Big Ten, but he wasn't so sure on what school to attend. That is, until he talked to some Spartans.
"A couple guys from my high school (Warren G. Harding in Warren, Ohio) went here and they told me about it when they came home," said Rucker, speaking about former Spartans Rocco Cironi and David Herron. "When the coaches came to recruit me, I jumped on the chance to play here because I heard so many good things about it and I knew about the tradition. I jumped on the chance to come here and I'm happy I did."
Rucker played in eight games as a true freshman, but had his debut season cut short by having to undergo eye surgery to repair two detached retinas. The injury was a surprise to even Rucker, but it did not keep him off the football field for long.
"There were a few obstacles," he said. "First they told me that they didn't think I was going to be able to play football again. Then I got a second opinion and they said I was going to be able to play but there were certain things that I had to do. Those were two of the big obstacles I had to face coming back from an injury like that."
Following his surgery, Rucker was named an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection by both the league's coaches and media in 2008 and 2009. He recorded a combined total of 103 tackles and 11 pass breakups in those two seasons.
"I feel like I've become more aggressive by the years," said Rucker. "I have grown more knowledge-wise and what have I been able to do. I just feel like the coaches and my teammates have really helped me grow since my freshman year. They have taught me a lot."
Now that his Michigan State football career is coming to a close, Rucker plans on graduating with a degree in sociology. He hopes to continue to be involved with the game he has come to love, but this time around as a coach. He has plenty of experience inside Spartan Stadium that could lead him to have a successful coaching career. And it's the experience of putting on the Spartan jersey and helmet he's going to miss most once he graduates.
"Michigan State football means everything," he said. "This is life for me right here. This is my team, this is my family here. They are like my brothers, I will never forget them. They will be with me for the rest of my life. The memories that I have created here are things I will never forget."
GETTING TO KNOW Chris L. Rucker
FAVORITE SPORT OTHER THAN FOOTBALL: Basketball
FAVORITE ATHLETE: Kobe Bryant
FAVORITE SPOT ON CAMPUS: Football building
FAVORITE SUBJECT: History
FAVORITE TV SHOW: Entourage
FAVORITE WARMUP SONG: "Kobe Bryant" by Lil Wayne
FAVORITE MUSICAL ARTIST: Tupac
This feature was originally published in the Sept. 25 edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine.