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Class of 2014 offensive lineman Casey Tucker from Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton watched, listened and learned at a distance. He was just a freshman, after all, when Christian Westerman and Tyler Johnstone were lifting, running, being recruited by most every program in the country.
To hear him tell the story it was admiration from afar.
"We weren't buddies or anything like that," he said. "Those guys were seniors, they were big time, and I was just a freshman.
"We would talk a little in the weight room but I was watching everything they did, that is for sure."
Westerman was well known as a sophomore in Arizona and evolved into the No. 3 offensive tackle in 2011. He finished the recruiting cycle as the No. 27 overall player in the country and went to Auburn.
Johnstone was the other bookend. The No. 16 offensive tackle in the country and No. 154 overall, Johnstone chose to go to Oregon.
Both set the standard at Hamilton.
"I am thankful for both of those guys," Tucker said. "I saw what they went through; it is helping me with what I am starting to go through. Christian really motivated me, too."
His rise to national relevance is following a very similar arch as that of Westerman.
Tucker added offers from Boise State, Nebraska, and Notre Dame in two days. He also added an invitation to the inaugural Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge.
The invitation-only camp and lineman challenge will be held June 22-24 at Lakewood Stadium in Atlanta. It will play host to 100 of the best players across the country; only 20 of them will be from the 2014 class.
"It is an honor to be asked to play," Tucker said. "Only 20 sophomores are getting invited and being able to go against the best of the best is something that really is exciting."
At 6-feet-6 and 275 pounds, Tucker has prototypical size for his position. Arizona State, Michigan, Oregon State, and Washington were early offers.
According to Tucker, being at a school such as Hamilton has helped elevate his profile.
"There are colleges always at Hamilton," he said. "Our class is pretty loaded too; it motivates us all to work hard. I know coach (Steve) Belles is excited about the group he has coming back this year."
With the excitement comes pressure to succeed, both individually and within the team structure.
Hamilton has been nationally ranked in the RivalsHigh 100 each of the last five seasons. The team won the state title in 2008, 2009, 2010 and was the runner-up in 2011.
"I like the pressure that is put on us," Tucker said. "If I didn't have the pressure I am not sure what I would do. I mean I want to be successful and football is a lot of fun but I want people to set expectations of me. I want to have to work hard to meet those expectations, too."
Being one of just 20 rising juniors to be asked to attend the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge is certainly raising the bar of expectations for the 16-year-old prospect.
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"Now I have to prove I belong there," he said. "I looked at the roster and saw I was the only 2014 offensive lineman, so that is big. I have to put in the work to show that I deserve that honor."
He also wants to work to show the next group of Huskies what it takes, as Westerman and Johnstone once did for him.
"I want the young guys to look up to me," he said. "Hopefully I can set that kind of example and work hard like they did."
Mike Farrell's take
Tucker comes from a school that has produced some top linemen recently so he's trying to keep that tradition going and show what he has learned. As an underclassman he will have his hands full, especially with the list of defensive linemen we have attending. He has good size, shows good footwork on film and the big question will be his strength and whether he can handle these older guys. He's one of the top offensive line prospects in the 2014 class and this will only make him better. As one of the few rising juniors along the offensive line, many will think he's an easy mark.
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