TAMPA — This has been the family routine of the past three years: Allen Tucker catches the 11:35 a.m. flight from Lexington, Ky., to St. Petersburg, with an arrival time of about 1:30 p.m.
His wife, Karin, meets him at the airport and they pick up food for the pregame meal. Next they head over to Tampa Bay Tech, where they feed their youngest child, Micah, and his ravenous teammates.
Soon after that it’s game time for the Titans, which is the reason Micah — and brother Caleb before him — asked their parents to stomach the weekly distance (about 835 miles) and weekend frenzy.
For now, the Tuckers are sacrificing for a football family at considerable expense to their own.
“My father thought it would be selfish of him to ask my brother and me to go live with him,” said Micah, a junior defensive end for Tampa Bay Tech. “And I love my brothers on the team. We’ve got a special bond.”
Once one of the area’s most notorious losers, the Titans have strengthened that bond in recent years as they embarked on a new winning tradition. TBT, which advanced to the playoffs only twice in the 40 seasons before 2008, will make its fifth straight appearance this fall.
If the Titans (6-2, 4-0) defeat Gaither today, they will clinch the Class 7A, District 7 title and ensure they host a first-round playoff game. As a bonus, they could also exact revenge against Gaither, which knocked them out of the postseason last year and needs a victory to clinch the district’s second playoff berth.
“We definitely have some unfinished business with them,” TBT coach Jayson Roberts said. “They’re going to come out and play for their playoff lives.”
The Titans have turned from doormat to one of the area’s most dominant programs behind players like senior Richard Benjamin, who returned to the school after spending the previous two years at Middleton.
Benjamin said he longed to return to TBT soon after transferring after his freshman season, when he was part of an undefeated junior varsity squad.
“I had a connection with the coaches and the guys that I played (junior varsity) with,” said Benjamin, one of the area’s top recruits as a running back, receiver and defensive back. “We have a bond here. And you really can see the progression.”
Then there are teammates like junior defensive end Micah Tucker, who never wanted to leave TBT despite the challenges of staying.
In the summer of 2009, Allen Tucker was laid off and spent the next couple months looking for work. When he was finally was offered a new job, it was in Kentucky.
“I needed to work and provide for the children or stay unemployed,” he said. “So I took the job.”
But as the family discussed the changes required by a move, oldest son Caleb — then a promising sophomore defensive tackle — expressed reservations about leaving behind his friends and teammates.
Already reluctant to disturb their children’s routine, Allen and Karin Tucker — married 24 years and rarely away from each other more than a few days at a time — decided to live apart during the week, cut back on expenses and buy plane tickets for every fall Friday and Monday.
“I can’t stress enough that we don’t enjoy it,” Karin Tucker said. “We miss each other on a daily basis. But it makes the weekends really exciting.”
Once Caleb graduated from TBT and joined South Florida as a preferred walk-on, Micah asked if his parents would be willing to continue with the arrangement until he graduated in 2014.
They agreed, and the Tuckers have enthusiastically maintained their supporting roles for the football program.
Karin Tucker is the booster club president and “team mom,” which includes running the concession stand during home games and hosting several teammates at the family house throughout the week. Caleb and the family’s three daughters — Ruth, Hannah and Lydia, all at USF — also come to the games.
“Half of his teammates go home with (Micah) after school,” Roberts said. “They go there before they go to their own home.”
In nearly four years, with help from employers who allow him to work four-day weeks of 10-12 hours, Allen Tucker has missed only one of his sons’ games: Oct. 18 against Steinbrenner, a rare Thursday contest that conflicted with work and flight schedules.
Though Allen Tucker is often weary after the long weekends and the lonely Monday morning flights back to Kentucky, he still looks forward to the trips back home. Especially the Fridays.
In fact, Tucker said, he hopes there’s more to come this season.
“I look forward to it all,” he said. “They only pass this way one. You don’t get a second chance.”