February 7, 2007

Rucker brings speed to Spartans

The following article is reprinted from a recent issue of SPARTAN Magazine. We will be running SPARTAN Magazine stories on selected members of the incoming recruiting class on SpartanMag.com today as part of national letter of intent signing day:

There's track speed, like what 100-meter world record holder Asafa Powell has. And then there's football speed, like what former Spartan Muhsin Muhammad had. Recent Michigan State commitment Chris Rucker just happens to have both.

Rucker, from Detroit Country Day High School, is the Division 3 defending state champion in the 100. He won the title with a time of 10.82 seconds last spring.

"With Chris, his speed translates to the football field," said Country Day head coach Dan MacLean. "I would say he's a football player first and a track athlete second."

The 5-foot-8, 163-pound Rucker did a lot of everything this past season for Country Day in helping the Yellowjackets to an 8-3 record and the Division 5 state playoffs. They lost to eventual state runner-up Madison Heights in a Regional Final.

SpartanMag.com ranks Rucker as the No. 26 player overall in Michigan.

"We could put Chris at any position," MacLean said, "because he seems to excel at everything. We put a lot more on his plate this year than we ever had and he really responded. No matter what situation we put him in he stayed composed and showed he had the mental temperament to handle it."

Although Rucker lined up all over the field, on both sides of the ball, he did most of his damage as a wide receiver. While MacLean didn't have any official stats, he did say that Rucker made "several spectacular catches" during the season. That included a last-second, game-winning grab against Grand Rapids Catholic Central.

"There was only eight seconds left and our quarterback just launched the ball into the end zone," said MacLean. "I didn't think anybody was going to get to it, but Chris came out of nowhere to make a one-handed catch. It was pretty impressive."

Rucker's touchdown catch gave Country Day a 23-22 win. He also had a 24-yard TD reception in the playoff loss to Madison Heights.

In addition to his accomplishments at receiver, Rucker also worked out of the backfield on occasion.

"Basically," MacLean said, "we wanted to get Chris as many touches as we could. We wanted to put the ball in his hands. We would have him run the ball as a running back and sometimes we would go with a power backfield with him at quarterback to keep the defense guessing.

"He's just so explosive that wherever we put him he made big plays for us. I would say he had more plays over 50 yards than anybody we've ever had here."

Not surprisingly, Rucker also returned kicks. On defense, he was the Yellowjackets' top cornerback. And in goal-line defense Rucker sometimes lined up at defensive end.

"Iowa wanted him as a defensive back, a cover corner," MacLean said. "But Chris wanted a shot at playing offense."

Rucker will get that opportunity at Michigan State. He committed to the Spartans less than a week after his official visit to the East Lansing campus on Dec. 15.

"I was really impressed by everything on my visit," Rucker said. "I talked to all the coaches and I got the feeling that the team was just like a big family. More importantly, it gives me a chance to play in the Big Ten.

"I wanted to play offense and the coaches (at MSU) said that they would give me a shot at playing receiver first. I might end up moving to defense, but I'll get more of a chance to play receiver at Michigan State than I would have at other schools.

"And I'll definitely get a chance to return kicks. And possibly punts."

MSU and Iowa weren't the only Big Ten schools recruiting Rucker as Purdue also offered and other conference schools were showing interest. Mid-American Conference schools Bowling Green, Miami (Ohio) and Eastern Michigan had officially offered Rucker as well.

But in the end it was Michigan State that won the race for Rucker's services. That is, after Mark Dantonio was named to replace John L. Smith.

"John L's staff was interested in Chris," MacLean said, "but they had doubts about his size. Cincinnati was showing interest when Coach Dantonio was there, and then when he went to Michigan State we got him to look at Chris's tape and it went from there.

"Michigan State is getting a great football player," MacLean added. "Chris is a great open-field runner, but he's not afraid to lower his shoulder and run people over.

"He's an excellent downfield blocker. We ran some power sets where we would motion Chris and it was his job to get downfield and take on a defensive back. He did a good job for us and I'm sure he's just going to get better."

First, though, Rucker has some track titles to defend. Last spring, in addition to winning the 100, he ran on three state championship relay teams (400, 800 and 1,600 meters) to help Country Day to a second-place finish.

"Running track has really helped me in football," Rucker said. "Obviously it made me faster to where now I'm blowing past people on the field. But I think it also gave me more endurance."

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