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'Keep your head up:' Tuckers play for dad

9/19/2012
Brothers DeeShawn (left) and D'Londo Tucker honor their father, Herman, who was killed earlier this month. Mason Kelley/ESPN.com

FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- After finishing the second game of his senior season, D’Londo Tucker (Federal Way, Wash./Federal Way) couldn’t wait to get home.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound defensive back/wide receiver had hauled in two touchdown passes during a 43-7 victory he called “one of the best games of my career.”

He wanted to share the moment with his father, Herman, who was unable to attend.

But, when Tucker walked through the front door, Herman had to leave. He told his son he was going to drop off a friend but planned to make it back in time to watch the replay on TV.

That was the last time Tucker saw his father. A few hours later -- at about 3 a.m. Sept. 7 at a Motel 6 in SeaTac, Wash. -- Herman was shot and killed.

Back at the house, before the shooting, Tucker watched a replay of his game, reveling in his prime-time performance. He started to get tired around halftime on the replay. He called his father, who said he would head home as quickly as he could.

Herman had watched the live broadcast and, before he hung up, told Tucker he had done a good job.

That was the last time the teenager talked to his father.

“Sometimes I shed a tear, but I stay strong, because I know that’s what he would want me to do,” said Tucker, who has scholarship offers from Idaho, Eastern Washington and Portland State.

When he woke up the next day, his father wasn’t home. The 17-year-old went to watch film with his teammates. Something seemed wrong.

His young brother, DeeShawn Tucker, a 6-foot, 170-pound junior point guard on the basketball team, felt a similar sense of discomfort.

“He wasn’t calling me throughout the day like he usually would,” DeeShawn said. “I knew something happened, but I didn’t know it would be something severe like this.”

Herman often called his boys between class periods. He would call at lunch to ask if they needed anything. His silence seemed strange.

“It’s been hard to deal with, one of the toughest things ever,” said DeeShawn, a 16-year-old who is receiving interest from Pac-12 programs. “I’m just starting to be able to be back in school without crying, starting to concentrate back on my work. Even though it’s hard, I’m still able to do it.”

When the brothers first heard the news, they didn’t believe it. No child is ever prepared for the death of a parent, but they had just seen him the night before.

As they processed their grief, they decided they didn’t want a description of the details.

“I didn’t want to know what happened,” D’Londo said. “I can’t bring him back. I just know that he’s gone. I lost my father.”

Described as funny and caring, Herman was a barber who was going back to school to become a nurse.

“He was just trying so hard to do right for us,” DeeShawn said.

Federal Way assistant coach Marcus “Izzy” Yzaguirre added, “He was amazing. People loved him.”

Herman pointed his children toward sports at an early age and, as they developed as athletes, he told them they would one day play in the NBA or NFL.

“He was just always there to support me,” D’Londo said.

After D'Londo had thrown several interceptions during a game last season -- he spent time at quarterback as a junior -- Herman looked at his son and said, “You’re holding your head down. After every bad thing you do, just make sure you keep your head up.”

When the senior thinks about the things his father taught him, fighting through adversity will always be a lesson he carries close. It is a message he leans on in the wake of his father’s death.

Since D’Londo found out about his father, he has tried to focus on football. He knows Herman would want him to keep playing. When D’Londo took the field Thursday against Graham (Wash.) Graham-Kapowsin, he thought, “I’m going to make it for him.”

In the 62-28 victory, Tucker finished with a 41-yard touchdown catch and an interception. There were moments when he would look up at the last row of stands and expect to see his father wearing a sweat suit that featured pictures of his boys, shouting from the same place he always stood.

In the fourth quarter, with the game long out of reach, D’Londo glanced into the stands one more time. When he realized he couldn’t share his great game with his father, tears welled in his eyes.

Federal Way football coach John Meagher looked over and saw his standout struggling. He wrapped him in a hug and D’Londo broke down, tears tumbling down his cheeks.

“He just sort of all of a sudden came to the realization, looking up in the stands, that his dad isn’t there and isn’t going to be,” Meagher said.

A relative would later tell D’Londo that was the moment he became a man.

The senior sat in Meagher’s office Tuesday afternoon wearing a black sweatshirt that featured a photo of D’Londo, DeeShawn and Herman. Printed in large white letters that started above the photo and finished below were the words, “Rest In Peace Dad.” DeeShawn wore a similar sweatshirt, his beaded braids dangling just above the hood.

The two brothers have started to face the future without their father.

“We just wanted to have these sweatshirts in his memory,” D’Londo said. “We never thought this day would come, but things happen. I just keep my head up, do my best and give it my all. That’s what my dad wanted me to do.”

Note: Federal Way High School has established a fund for D'Londo and DeeShawn Tucker. To made a donation, visit www.FWHSFoudation.org.