The 2019 season doesn’t mark the first time kicker Justin Tucker and safety Earl Thomas have been on a highly successful team together — far from it, in fact.
Both played their college ball at Texas, with their careers overlapping from 2008-2009. Tucker was the punter during that time, while Thomas was a ball-hawking safety. The Longhorns went 25-2 during that time, reaching the BCS championship game in January 2010.
All told, Tucker was at Texas from 2008-2011. He punted all four years and was the primary placekicker in 2010 and 2011. He made 40 of 48 field goals and all 71 extra points as a junior and senior. He hit a game-winning, 40-yard field goal in 2011 against Texas A&M in what was the final meeting between the two programs before A&M left for the SEC.
Thomas redshirted in 2007 before bursting onto the scene. He combined for 135 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 10 interceptions and two touchdowns from 2008-2009, during which the Longhorns went 25-2. Thomas was taken 14th overall by the Seattle Seahawks in 2010 and was part of the “Legion of Boom” secondary that helped the Seahawks win Super Bowl XLVIII.
Brown joined Glenn Clark Radio Dec. 19 to share stories about Tucker and Thomas …
• Tucker has converted on 260 of his 287 kicks (90.6 percent) since entering the NFL, the top rate in league history. Did Brown know Tucker had that kind of potential?
“I really didn’t, but I wouldn’t question it. He never missed a field goal for us that mattered,” Brown said. “He made the last-second kick at A&M to win the last game between the two, and he can punt. He could actually sprint to his right and rugby punt. He could sprint to his left and rugby punt. I let him do it once against Colorado to the left and I think we had a 7-yard punt, so that ended his sprinting left career.”
• Brown gave Tucker free rein on punts to take off when he thought he could pick up the first down. That backfired in September 2009.
“He’s so confident. I told him when he was a freshman that when you see it as a punter, if you see it and you can make that first down, man, run for it,” Brown said. “So we’re at Wyoming. He’s on the minus-6-yard line. He sees it and he goes to get it and he comes up 2 yards short. So I’m yelling at him coming off the field. I’m saying, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘You told me if I thought I could make it, and I thought I could make it.’ I said, ‘Yeah, not from the minus-6, my friend.'”
• Tucker is a talented opera singer, as has been well-documented, but he can apparently rap, too.
“We had a little sketch when he was a freshman and he came in and he started singing opera, and the whole team was booing him,” Brown said. “And then he went from opera to rap, and the whole team was giving him a standing ovation. He is a very confident, very bright, very special young man who was a really good receiver and defensive back at Westlake High School, so he’s a tremendous athlete.”
• Thomas has picked off 30 passes during his 10-year NFL career and another two in the playoffs. He’s been a ballhawk dating back to when he redshirted in 2007, according to Brown.
“I love Earl. Earl was a running back and slot back at Orange High School in East Texas and wasn’t that highly recruited,” Brown said. “When we got him, we redshirted him. He was really quiet, played the organ in the church every Sunday morning. And then he just has the best instincts I’ve ever seen for a defensive back. Every time we’d throw a ball when he was being redshirted, he’d go pick it off. He just got better and better and better, and he’s such a great person.”
• Texas lost to Alabama, 37-21, in the BCS championship game in January 2010. Both teams entered the game 13-0, and NFL talent was all over the field. Thomas, who had eight interceptions in 2009, approached Brown about his NFL prospects that year.
“He came to me his third year and said, ‘Coach, I would like to come out this year if you think I can be drafted,'” Brown said. “He was playing safety; he was doing a great job for us. And we said, ‘Absolutely. Don’t say anything until after the bowl so it won’t be a distraction.’ We started working him some at corner in practice so he would have some video for people to look at him, but then the rest is history. He’s honest, he’s humble, he’s quiet.”
• Prior to taking the North Carolina job in November 2018, Brown worked as a color analyst for ESPN — and he did three Louisville games with Lamar Jackson at quarterback. Brown, who said he’s a friend of Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, is excited about Jackson’s success.
“It was interesting that some of my colleagues even asked [Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino], ‘Do you think he can ever be a pro quarterback?’ And Bobby went off and said, ‘Absolutely,’ that he’ll be a great pro quarterback,” Brown said. “And there were question marks, and Lamar has answered every question. He’s checked every box. I think what we’re seeing is people who have mobile quarterbacks have a better chance to win than people who don’t because they can make plays off schedule.”
For more from Brown, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox