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In the championship heat of the season’s final race, Sean Tucker, then a high school sophomore, lined up against his biggest rival, DeJuan Ellis. Tucker’s chain — one he had never worn in a race before — touched the rubber track as he leaned into the starting blocks.
After the starting gun was fired, Tucker flew through the race, defeating Ellis. It was one of Tucker’s biggest wins of his track and field career, former teammate Kaelin Wade said, and came in one of the biggest meets of the season.
“He finally beat the kid, and hit the wall screaming with pride and happiness,” Wade said.
Tucker and a few other football players had been asked to join the Calvert Hall College track and field team, Wade said, and Tucker’s journey in the sport began in ninth grade at Calvert Hall College High School (Md.) and ultimately led to two 55-meter dash indoor titles and eventually, a dual-sport career at Syracuse. Head coach Dino Babers said Friday that Tucker has gotten significantly faster since last season, something Babers attributed to Tucker joining the Syracuse track team this offseason.
At the start of his first-ever track season, though, former Calvert Hall coach Daniel Harper didn’t think much of Tucker. Harper said Tucker was fast, but nothing about him “stood out” during the first few weeks.
But after those first few weeks, Tucker began to show why he was special, Harper said. Unlike some runners, Tucker was just learning how to run track. This, though, allowed Harper to mold Tucker into the right style of runner. Tucker didn’t have any bad habits — he had no habits — and it was easy for Tucker to learn the right technique from the start, Harper said.
As the first season moved along, Harper said he quickly realized that Tucker was meant to be a short-distance runner, competing in races 200 meters or less. Tucker ran the 60m in a personal-best time of 6.88 seconds as a freshman.
But Tucker wasn’t the fastest on the team, which he hated, Wade said. Tucker didn’t love track, but knew it would help his football career, Harper said. So, Tucker made the decision to not allow himself to finish anywhere except the top of most races.
In his second year on the team, Tucker and another runner on the team, Chris Lewis, developed a rivalry, Wade recalled. Tucker and Lewis traded races against other schools and whenever Tucker lost, he took it hard, not speaking to Lewis for a week following those races, Wade said.
Tucker also regularly competed against Rahkeem Smith in practices. In one race, Smith said he noticed that Tucker looked calmer compared to other runners. “He seemed more relaxed, everyone else looked tense, he looked like he was ready to,” Smith said.
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Wade said others on the team knew that Tucker was the best. While it was tough to compete and battle with him in practice, Wade knew that Tucker was great to have on his team.
“He was really helpful in the 4×100 but super tough to compete against in practice,” Wade said.
After Lewis left before Tucker’s junior season, Tucker became the best runner on his team and one of the best in the state. Wade said he couldn’t remember Tucker losing a race from that point on through his high school career.
But Tucker needed a bigger goal to reach for, Harper said. All spring and summer, Tucker and Harper trained for the junior Olympics, working on the three phases of the 60-meter dash: the start, middle and close.
Harper made Tucker and his other runners do endurance, speed and weightlifting training, which was slightly uncommon for sprinters, the coach said. Through this, Tucker got the edge he needed, qualifying for the junior Olympics.
And eventually, after becoming a championship runner in track — along with one of the best high school running backs in Maryland — Tucker landed at Syracuse, where he became a dual-sport athlete, merging that speed and strength he worked on in high school and has continued to develop at SU.
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