Tucker happy he's home

Clay Tucker is back home, happy to be in Newport Beach. It's where he grew up. It's where he fell in love with the game of football. And now he's helping spread that love.

Tucker, the son of the great Orange Coast College football coach Dick Tucker, has formed a flag football league in Newport Beach. He's also helping start another one in Costa Mesa.

Clay Tucker played quarterback at Corona del Mar High and then for his dad at OCC. Before that, while growing up and playing on fields in Newport Beach, he also learned about the game in Costa Mesa, at OCC to be exact.

He grew up around the game at OCC, working as a ball-boy for the team. It just seemed natural that after playing at CdM, he would go on to play for the Pirates. It also appeared inevitable that the game would always be a part of Tucker's life.

That's why when he moved back to Newport Beach after more than a decade on the East Coast he knew he would keep on being involved with football.

Tucker had a great feeling the NFL Youth Flag Football League of Newport Beach would be great for him and his family. He also expected families in the community would enjoy it too, as an alternative to tackle football and other sports that can be intense.

When people visit the website, http://www.nflflagnewportbeach.com, the theme instrumental music for Monday Night Football blares. This league, however, is just a little taste of prime time. It's five on five and concentrates on passing, receiving and defending the pass.

This flag football league also helps kids who might be too small or big for Pop Warner or Junior All-American programs, Tucker said. They have time to grow or make weight as they learn about aspects of the game with NFL Youth Flag Football.

Tucker's son, Dylan, is an example.

"He was small and tackle football was probably too much for him," Tucker said.

They went to the NFL Youth Flag Football League in New Jersey, about an hour from where they were at in Sparta.

"I thought it was neat," Tucker said.

Dylan also enjoyed it.

Tucker didn't want to commute an hour to have his son play in the league so he started one in Sparta and it thrived.

"The feedback from the parents I got was that it allowed the kids to dip their toe in football and for some it helped them learn about the passing game," Tucker said.

He also wanted to have the kids learn how to throw the ball.

In NFL Youth Flag Football each player can be the quarterback.

Dylan, who is 12, played the position his dad manned. Dylan also grew.

After three years he added enough height and weight to take his game to the Newport-Mesa All-American program.

He also played lacrosse to increase his athleticism.

That's a glimpse of what Tucker finds with kids who play in the flag football league.

Some young athletes are busy specializing in another sport, but they find time to compete in NFL Flag Football.

The league also endorses Newport-Mesa Junior All-American, Tucker said. So if a kid doesn't find what he's looking for with tackle football they can try flag football.

That's one of the reasons why attaining the NFL shield for the league was simple for Tucker, he said. The NFL, which is amid a labor struggle and in danger of a lockout, wants to encourage youth to enjoy the game, what ever level it can be played.

Tucker has seen it work in Newport Beach. There are 26 teams in the winter league. They practice and play at Sage Hill School.

Next week, Tucker and Steve O'Daly are starting a league in Costa Mesa that will endorse Costa Mesa Pop Warner. They'll practice and play at Adams Elementary.

Tucker also hopes the leagues will help increase football participation at the local high schools.

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