October 5, 2013

The Foundation Of Trust

By Carly Grimaudo
Special to GoHolyCross.com

Throughout a lifetime, people build and form various relationships with the numerous people they come in contact with. Whether it is with a sibling, friend, co-worker or teammate, how strong relationships grow are dependent on numerous factors including how much time people spend together, how well they communicate and how much they trust one another. While these values are all important in establishing and maintaining relationships with siblings, friends and co-workers, they are impeccable in the relationship between two teammates, especially two teammates in a Division I program. Luckily, seniors Gary Acquah and Mike Tucker have successfully built a strong relationship, with an emphasis on trust, that has enabled them to also build a solid defense for the Crusaders.

Acquah and Tucker are both three-year starters and key players for the defense. Depending on the play, their roles could include rushing the passer, covering a receiver or stopping the run. It is a crucial job in order to keep the opponent off the scoreboard. Both Acquah and Tucker took on the hefty responsibility of shutting down some of the best offenses in the league in just their second year. As a result, they have worked together on the line consistently for the past three seasons, building an on-field relationship based on their trust in the other's ability and work ethic since their sophomore years.

Much of the trust Acquah and Tucker have for each other is a result of their performance levels and consistency, two characteristics of an athlete that are maximized in collegiate athletics but established prior, during one's high school career. Acquah, a current senior captain of the Crusaders, surprisingly did not begin playing football until he entered his freshman year of high school. Never playing in a Pop Warner league, football was new to him because of his location in the Bronx, N.Y. "Fields are something really limited in New York, so many people don't associate the metropolitan area with being big in football," said Acquah. "But I was fortunate enough to attend a competitive high school that got me noticed." That high school was Mount St. Michael Academy and the man who ignited Acquah's football stint there was head coach Mario Valentini.

As a basketball star throughout his youth, Acquah never thought much about pursuing the sport of football. He actually sought to play college basketball once he graduated beyond high school, but that all changed when he stepped on a football field at the age of 14, after Valentini took notice in Acquah's athleticism and asked him to try out for the team. This is why, still today, Acquah considers Valentini one of the most positive influences in his life, along with his mother and father and his basketball coach Tom Fraher, who all fully supported his decision to work towards playing college football. Acquah became a junior and senior captain of the Mount St. Michael Academy football team and led his team to a Catholic High School Football League title after defeating Cardinal Hayes and current teammate senior Emanuel Mendoza in the championship. As a senior he was named first team All-State, first team All-City, first team All-Bronx and was selected as the Bronx / Manhattan Player of the Year by the New York Post. After recording 169 tackles throughout his high school career, in addition to rushing for 1,318 yards and 23 touchdowns as a fullback, there is no doubt that Acquah made the right choice in aspiring to play at the collegiate level.

Tucker on the other hand, began Pop Warner at the young age of seven and never thought of playing anything else. Though he played throughout his life, the intensity of his play ramped up when he joined the varsity team at Downingtown East High School. Under the leadership of head coach Mike Matta (who formerly coached at West Chester University and served as a graduate assistant at Florida) and defensive coordinator Mark Fetterman (who had coaching experience at Lehigh and Widener), Tucker had all the resources he needed to raise his level of play so he could achieve his long-standing goal of playing collegiate football. "My high school coaches really took me and turned me into a man by developing me as a football player and instilling values in me that I still highly believe in today," said Tucker. The expertise of Matta and Fetterman clearly accelerated Tucker's skill level and talent because by the time he was a senior and a captain, he had been twice named to the All Ches-Mont Conference and All-Area first teams, earned third team All-Southeastern Pennsylvania honors, helped lead his team to Ches-Mont Conference titles in 2008 and 2009 and was selected to play in the Valor Bowl and the Pennsylvania East-West All-Star Game.

While Acquah and Tucker come from different football backgrounds, they both eventually wound up at the same place, for the same reason. Both athletes noted that the driving force behind their decisions to attend Holy Cross in the fall of 2010 was Holy Cross head coach Tom Gilmore. "I came primarily because of coach Gilmore and how much he loves the game," said Tucker. "I knew the fire and desire of coach Gilmore could lead me down a successful path." Acquah added, "I loved coach Gilmore's intensity and drive to win. That, along with the history behind Holy Cross football as well as the team camaraderie, were huge factors in my decision to play at Holy Cross."

Once at Holy Cross, Acquah and Tucker became two key components of the Crusader defense that the team greatly relied on from as early as their sophomore years. During their sophomore season, the team did not have any seniors on the defensive line so Acquah, Tucker and other underclassmen had to recreate its culture and take on heavy responsibilities at considerably young ages for college athletes.

As sophomores, both Acquah and Tucker played in all 11 games and started in nine. Acquah led all Crusader defensive linemen with 40 tackles for the year and registered two sacks and three tackles for loss, while Tucker totaled 27 tackles, a pass breakup and nine quarterback sacks. Following the season, Tucker was named second team All-Patriot league in just his second year of college football. The following year in 2012, Acquah and Tucker pushed themselves and each other to be better than they were the previous year. Acquah started in all 11 games of his junior season, was named second team All-Patriot League and received the Davitt Award for being the team's top defensive linemen. Tucker again played in all 11 games as both an outside linebacker and defensive end, totaling 28 tackles, two quarterback sacks and nine tackles for loss.

Their progression and consistency as juniors were a result of their relationship on the field, allowing them to push each other to be the best they can be. "After playing together for so long, it is easy to put everything on hold and worry about what's best for the team thanks to our common interests for the team and full trust for each other," said Tucker. "Since we are the same year and same position, it has been easy to critique each other to help ourselves and the team improve," added Acquah. As a result, the years they have spent together on the defensive line, their ability to communicate with one another and the immense trust they have developed in their relationship have all had a substantial influence on their growth as players.

With their personal game at its highest, both Crusaders continue their senior season with one shared goal in mind: to win a Patriot League Championship. With confidence, Acquah and Tucker believe and expect the 2013 Holy Cross football team to make that goal a reality.

This story originally appeared in the October 5 edition of the Holy Cross Game Day Program, for the contest between the Crusaders and Harvard. To order a copy of the program, click here.