AP Football Coach Billy Tucker runs through some drills

First-Year Austin Prep Football Coach Billy Tucker runs through some drills during last Thursday’s practice at the new facility.     (photo by Jim Vaiknoras).

READING — It stands to reason that a first-year coach would face scrutiny and be compared to the individual who previously held the job, particularly if that predecessor was the celebrated guru of high school football, Bill Maradei, who retired from Austin Prep coaching duties last year.

Enter Coach Billy Tucker, who hopes to takes the highly-successful football program at Austin Prep to new levels of greatness. Tucker, who makes his home a stone’s throw from the AP campus in Reading, arrives armed with a wealth of experience and knowledge and understands he has a tough act to follow.

“Coach Maradei and I are friends,” said Tucker, when reached during a recent practice at the AP campus. “He has provided a great deal of support so far. I’ve been picking his brain about some of the little things but you’re right, it will be hard to fill his shoes.”

According to Tucker, who earned 1992 Boston Globe Player of the Year honors for his exploits as a Reading High School running back, the timing was ideal to accept the AP job.

“My son was just entering Austin Prep and I was aware the school was seeking a new football coach,” he shared. “The retirement of Coach Maradei last year was perfect timing for me and everything just aligned and it worked out.”

Athletic Director Patrick Driscoll was very pleased to welcome Tucker to Austin Prep:

“I’m looking forward to the upcoming season,” he said, several days before the opener. “The entire community is excited to cheer on the team. Coach Tucker, his staff, and the team have been hard at work getting ready for the season. Coach Tucker has brought a great mix of intensity and fun in preparing for our upcoming opponents. We are planning on an exciting season of football.”

As Tucker explained it, his career requires a great deal of travel in the spring and summer but during the fall season, he enjoys “down time” from his work, time which will now be filled by ushering the Cougars into a new era of excellence.

“We’re trying to teach the kids the fundamentals of this sport, safe football, and at the same time, a winning culture,” the coach said. “We have a clean slate to work with and a great opportunity but the kids have to earn it.”

After graduating from Reading High School, which eventually inducted him into the Rocket’s Hall of Fame, Tucker continued to churn up area gridirons with the Bentley College Falcons. A running back in high school, he transitioned to linebacker in college and achieved great success, including assembling 18 quarterback sacks during his senior year.

“After finishing my career as a player, I ended up coaching at Bentley for two years,” said Tucker, who will debut Saturday afternoon by hosting Whittier Tech. “I then moved on to Merrimac College where I was the director of football recruiting and defensive coordinator for five years. We went to the Sweet 16 in our final year.”

Soon after leaving Bentley, Tucker joined ESPN and Scouts, Inc. which provides a wide array of college scouting, analysis, rankings, and player evaluations. It proved to be a wise career move as additional channels opened for Tucker, including a VP position with 3Step Sports, a company that oversees more than a dozen projects devoted to the develop of high school athletes and in conjunction with Under Armor, sponsors the annual All-America Football Game, bringing together the nation’s top one hundred football players.

“I direct the Under Armor All-America game which ESPN broadcasts every year with Deion Sanders, Ed Reed, and Steve Mariucci, and the top high school players,” Tucker said. “I’m fortunate to do that every January. In the spring, I travel around the country to select cities, big markets, and we have camps for the top junior and senior high school prospects.”

It goes without saying that Tucker possesses the valuable ability to recognize football talent. He was quick to credit the Walsh brothers for making his new job that much easier.

“The Walsh brothers have definitely helped in that regard,” he agreed, as the Wilmington brothers, Chris and Harry, rumbled along the turf on a full speed drill. “But we also have a tremendous coaching staff here. Mike Foley is a forty-year Division 1 coach, who spent considerable time with UMass, UConn, Harvard, and Colgate. You can’t do better than Mike for offensive line coaching and calling plays. And Chris Morales, a Lawrence kid who played at Central Catholic and Delaware, will oversee the defense.”

Tucker agreed that his roster will stack up against anybody in the Catholic Central League and beyond. The Walsh brothers, both 6’ 4”, are just two examples of the Cougars’ sizeable composition.

Chris and Harry Walsh are the only two varsity athletes currently representing Wilmington but there are a number of JV players who may see action as the season progresses. Griffin Carr hails from Wilmington while Tewksbury sends a contingent to the Cougars’ squad including Justin Elias, Jimmy Holmes, and Ryan Thompson.

“We do have significant size up front, both on the offensive and defensive lines and defense will likely be the strength of this team,” the coach said. “But we have some skill players, as well. Now it’s just a matter of executing.

“This is the first time these guys have played together and the first time we’ve coached them, so it’s not going to happen overnight. But thanks to Coach Maradei, I inherited a disciplined team. We may open things up a little more on offense but we will still follow a lot of the traditions he started here.”

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