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Trojan for life

Father memorializes best friend at USC games

Posted: Monday November 21, 2005 9:39AM; Updated: Tuesday November 22, 2005 7:55PM
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Andre and Taurean Rucker have been mainstays at USC games for the past three seasons.
Andre and Taurean Rucker have been mainstays at USC games for the past three seasons.
Robert Beck/SI
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Surrounded by college-aged students, the athletic-looking man in his mid-40s seemed slightly out of place at the Los Angeles Coliseum last Saturday night. Andre Rucker, 44, has attended all but two University of Southern California football games over the past three seasons. Rucker stood in the upper reaches of Section 25 next to his 16 year-old son, Taurean, and two family friends, anxiously waiting for the kickoff of the Fresno State-USC game. A student seated behind Rucker noticed the back of his maroon T-shirt, on which in yellow print a helmet with the numeral "54" stood above the words "Drean Rucker, A Trojan For Life".

"Excuse me, sir," the student said. "Who's Drean Rucker?" That the student pronounced the first name as if saying "dream," instead of the proper way, which is to reverse the syllables of Andre (dray-ON), was proof that he had no idea. Rucker turned around and, in a quiet and gentle manner, told him that Drean Rucker was his son. Actually, he said that Drean is his son. And then he told the young man, in not so many words, that were it not for the vicissitudes of life, Drean Rucker would be wearing No. 54 for the Trojans this evening and starting at linebacker.

The incoming freshman class at USC in the summer of 2003 was one for the ages. Names that, 33 consecutive wins later, are well-known by most college football fans today, were unknown to virtually all but coaches and recruiting mavens back then. Darnell Bing, Reggie Bush, Sedrick Ellis, Lawrence Jackson, Ryan Kalil, Steve Smith, Matt Spanos, LenDale White. Drean Rucker. The last of those (all of whom currently start for the Trojans) was a 6-foot-2, 235-pound linebacker from Moreno Valley (Calif.) Canyon Springs High School who was one of the jewels of that 23-man freshman class.

"He used to ask me to critique his games when he was in high school," says Andre, who bounced around a college or two playing safety himself in the early '80s. "We watched a lot of tape. But by his senior year, I'd say nothing. One game, he had like, 22 tackles and three sacks. 'Dad, how did I play?' Drean asked me. 'I don't have to answer that,' I said. He knew."

Drean accumulated eight shoe boxes' worth of recruiting letters from schools such as USC, Nebraska and Florida State. But, after walking onto midfield at the Coliseum in total darkness and then seeing his photo displayed on the JumboTron, Drean chose to become a Trojan. In the summer between high school graduation and his matriculation at USC, Drean Rucker worked hard to further chisel his frame. He made the hour-long drive most every weekday to USC to participate in informal workouts in preparation for his freshman season. On a Thursday in mid-July, he asked his father if he could skip workouts to spend the day with his friends at the beach.

"USC isn't giving you a $42,000 scholarship to go spend the day at the beach," said Andre, who himself was working 12-hour days at a canning factory.

"But you know how kids are," recalls Andre, who bears a slight resemblance to the actor Louis Gossett Jr. "Drean asked me again on Friday. I said 'no.' Then on Sunday night he asked me again, if he could go Monday morning. I remember, I was washing dishes. 'Go,' I said."