What Carl Tucker learned about Alabama football after transferring from North Carolina: 'It doesn't stop, no brakes'

Brett Hudson
The Tuscaloosa News

Carl Tucker’s North Carolina teams were, more often than not, respectable. In his five seasons as a Tar Heel, three of them resulted in winning records. He had one bowl victory and in his redshirt year UNC won the ACC Coastal Division.

All the while, he wondered: What was the difference between North Carolina and Alabama? What made Alabama as dominant as it was?

In 2020, he found out firsthand.

Tucker was a graduate transfer tight end for UA in 2020; he did not catch a pass, but did play in seven games, his playing time hindered by injuries. Tucker relived his Alabama experience with The Tuscaloosa News as he rehabilitates his injured elbow and prepares for the NFL Draft.

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“It was a little bit more than I expected. I expected it to be hard work and a grind, but it was hard work and a grind times two,” Tucker said. “From the outside looking in, I always wondered what made them so good, what made them so dominant against other teams.

"Now, being a part of it, it makes so much sense: When they’re out there in the hot, Tuscaloosa weather, over 100 degrees, humidity insane, we’re still out there grinding and working extremely hard, consistently. And it doesn’t stop, no brakes. My work ethic increased, my workload increased, leaving that place.”

Tucker said the intensity of Alabama’s work schedule hit him as quickly as his second preseason practice with the Crimson Tide.

“The speed of practice, the tempo of it the whole time, the whole two-hours-and-a-half, it’s unreal. It’s unmatchable,” Tucker said. “Carolina practiced fast and hard and all that, but Alabama, it was that and more.”

While he didn’t know the full extent of it at the time, he knew the UA lifestyle was something he was looking for as he entered the transfer portal. After five seasons at North Carolina, he was ready for something different. Playing time was not what he was looking for: He caught 36 passes for 549 yards and four touchdowns as a Tar Heel.

He was looking for “a place I know would make me a better football player, and it was easy for Alabama to be that choice.” The role was not important at the time. UA knew of his NFL aspirations and sold him that Tuscaloosa was the best place to progress.

The role, it turned out, was as a blocking tight end.

“After the first two or three games, I could see where that was headed because there’s really no need to get me the ball when you have all those weapons on offense,” Tucker said. “It was very easy to commit to that role, because you got to get the ball to Najee (Harris), DeVonta (Smith), Jaylen Waddle and (John) Metchie, too.”

That came to a screeching halt late in the LSU game, when a triceps injury ended his season. Tucker said the injury happened on an onside kick: He extended to block a player and “the tendon ripped off the bone.” He knew exactly what he was in for, as he suffered this same injury, on the same arm, in 2017 against Duke, also on a special teams play.

Earlier this month, Tucker said he was up to 80-85%, including complete range of motion. His hope was to work his strength back up and reach 100% recovery around late March to early April — well before the NFL Draft starts April 29.

The injury almost brought him back to UA for another year, to take advantage of the NCAA’s COVID-9 eligibility waiver.

“I did think about it because I finished the season hurt, but at the end of the day I was playing college football for six years,” Tucker said. “It was time for me to take the leap of faith, trust in God and the process and attack my dreams.”

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson