KNOXVILLE — Luke Stocker could be in the NFL right now, but he’s not. He could be the University of Tennessee’s leading pass-catcher, but he’s not.
He could be the most frustrated man on campus, but he’s not. Not anymore, anyway.
I caught up with UT’s senior tight end for this week’s “Wednesdays with Wes,” and Stocker was unbelievably candid for a full 15 minutes.
Tight end is typically an incredibly tough position for several reasons. You have to block like a lineman and run routes like a wide receiver. You’re constantly lining up in different positions and often going in motion before the snap. You must comprehend nearly every position’s alignment and assignment on nearly every play.
With that in mind, I bombarded the 6-foot-6 pride of Berea, Ky., with random questions about football and his personal life. And, perhaps only slightly surprisingly, he answered them all with relative ease.
Here’s the full transcript:
Q: You’re 6-foot-6. You’re from Kentucky. Why the heck do you play football?
STOCKER: “(Laughter.) I don’t know. I started playing football when I was young. I’d never really played before other than just tossing the ball around in the backyard, and I went out there and was like, ‘I’m pretty good at this.’ I really enjoyed it, and I kept enjoying it more and more and more. I fell in love with the sport, and from that point, I’ve just kept grinding and trying to become the best player I could be. Once I got to high school, I had aspirations of playing college football. That was a dream, and I worked my tail off, and obviously that dream came true. And then when I got here, my dream was to make my mark at Tennessee and try to get to the NFL. That’s what I’m trying to do now.”
Q: As a tall kid in Kentucky, are you allowed to tell people your dream is to play football? I think there’s actually legislation up there that forbids that.
STOCKER: “Yeah, I probably should have (kept it quiet). I was actually a pretty good high school basketball player. I don’t know if I was quite the caliber to compete with some of these guys in college, though — wow, those guys are good. Football has definitely always been my best sport.”
Q: And you’ve always been a UT fan — at least in football — if I remember correctly.
STOCKER: “Oh, yeah. Craig Faulkner, he was a receiver here in the 90s...”
Q: No! Really?
STOCKER: “(Laughter). Yeah. But anyway, his grandma was my baby-sitter when I was real young — pre-school and younger. I grew up hearing all about Craig, and my dad and his dad are good friends. They go to church together and work together. Our families are pretty close, and I always looked up to him as a kid. And I always thought Tennessee was the place to be, man. Tennessee was it for me. Tennessee is the Mecca of college football, as far as I’m concerned.”
Q: Craig Faulkner caught a lot more passes than you.
STOCKER: “(Laughter.) He was a wide receiver, man.”
Q: Whatever. Excuses.
STOCKER: “(Laughter.) Craig was always that guy from my hometown who made it to the big-time. He went to college on a football scholarship. That was big-time, man. I’ve always looked up to him.”
Q: You also have a good story about coming here for a basketball camp and then getting a scholarship offer. Can you walk me through that story again?
STOCKER: “My high school (football) coach — this is how all my recruiting got started — he made a highlight tape of my junior year, and he sent it to a bunch of different schools. Schools started responding with offers, or wanting me to come to campus, or wanting to come up to my high school to visit. Tennessee was one of the schools that came up to my high school to visit. It was (former offensive coordinator) Randy Sanders. He came up there, pulled me out of class and talked to me for probably 15 minutes. Actually, I don’t even remember if I said a word to him, but he talked to my high school coach as I just kind of stood there. I don’t think he was allowed to talk to me. But he was there, and they took me out of class, and he and my high school coach were just talking while I just stood there — I guess that was the eyeball test, just to see me in person and what my measurables were and things like that.
“From there, they sent me letters and invited me to camps and stuff like that, but the camp dates didn’t work out with my schedule for whatever reason. But we had a high school basketball team camp down here, and I did come to that. And while I was here, Coach (Phillip) Fulmer asked Coach (Bruce) Pearl to come over and kind of look at me to see how I moved around — if I was athletic or whatever. I guess Coach Pearl gave him a good reference, because then I met with Coach Fulmer, and he asked me to come work out with them. So I came and worked out with them, and from there, they extended an offer.”
Q: Were you one of those kids who was a UT football and Kentucky basketball fan?
Q: Did you wear Kentucky basketball apparel?
STOCKER: “I did. I have magazines at home signed by Tony Delk and Antoine Walker and Rick Pitino when they won the national championship. I also have signed Tubby Smith stuff, whenever they won the championship again.”
STOCKER: “(Laughter.) That stuff’s stowed away now. I’m a Vol.”
Q: When was the last time you wore Kentucky basketball apparel?
STOCKER: “I couldn’t tell you. It had to be like middle school.”
Q: Liar. You probably wore it in high school, too.
STOCKER: “No, man. I don’t think so. Maybe I had a cut-off T-shirt I wore to work out in or something.”
Q: People from Tennessee always complain that Knoxville-area native Randall Cobb, who signed with Kentucky, has become a star. You’re a Kentucky boy who signed with the Vols and has become a really good player, too. Who got the better end of that deal?
STOCKER: “I don’t know. But we’ve beat Kentucky 25 times in a row. I haven’t lost to them yet. As far as head-to-head goes, I’m winning that one.”
Q: Don’t side-step the question. Who is the better individual player?
STOCKER: “(Laughter.) He’s definitely faster. I don’t want to race him or anything. That would be a tough challenge for me. I’d have to trip him at the line.”
Q: Moving on ... if you guys had made that field goal and beaten Alabama last year, your in-traffic catch on that final drive probably would have been the best moment in your career, right?
Q: But you guys lost.
STOCKER: “I remember.”
Q: So where does that catch rank in your career now? It was still kind of awesome.
STOCKER: “I don’t know. I haven’t really sat around and thought about ranking my catches.”
Q: No way. All of you guys do that.
STOCKER: “Oh, definitely, I think it was awesome. But I’ve never sat around and thought, ‘Was that the best catch of my career?’ But it was definitely up there near the top. I’ll never forget that feeling after that catch. I was so happy. I just knew we were going to win the game. But it was kind of like the LSU game (this season).”
Q: Which loss was worse, Bama last season or LSU this season? Or is that kind of like asking whether you’d want to be kicked in the head or the groin?
STOCKER: “I don’t know. Both were horrible. I had the exact same feeling at LSU as Alabama. I just knew we were going to win both games. I just knew we’d beaten Alabama once I made that catch, and it felt so much more special to me, because I knew I’d made the catch that set us up for that. That minute-and-a-half or whatever between me making the catch and that field goal, ...that was an unbelievable feeling, man. It would have been awesome to finish it off. But then that loss, that was also an unbelievable feeling. If we can get on that field Saturday and get out of there with a win, man, that would be awesome.”
Q: Obviously, you’ve known all about Tennessee-Alabama since you were a kid. Most people say all games count the same, and technically they do. But do they really count the same?
STOCKER: “No. This game is special for every Tennessee football player. I was talking to (former UT quarterback) Condredge Holloway the other day, and he’s the director of the lettermen’s club here. He said that at some of their events, the first thing they say is, ‘If you beat Alabama, stand up,’ and then they give them a round of applause. That speaks volumes to how important this game is, how much this game means to everybody here — to the alums and all the Tennessee fans.”
Q: Do you ever regret not declaring for the NFL draft last offseason, even if only for a split second? Do you ever sit at your apartment and say, “Man, I wish I already had that bigger TV and that bigger car?”
STOCKER: “Of course, man. It’s human nature to think about it — especially on Sundays when you’re just sitting around, watching NFL football and thinking, ‘Man, it would be awesome to be out there playing right now.’ Even though I’m sore as heck on Sundays, and my body’s aching, it’s still awesome watching them. I don’t know if I’d say I regret it, though. That’s not it. I just look forward to having the opportunity to try for it. I look forward to that opportunity.”
Q: You’ve always seemed like a team player. You’ve never seemed like a complainer. But everyone — especially you, obviously — knows that your numbers have not met expectations to this point in the season. Do you worry about that costing you money? We’re not talking small money, here. We’re talking possibly thousands and thousands of real, genuine dollars.
STOCKER: “I have. It’s one of those things where I was really worried about it, and I thought about it, and I think it made me play bad for two games. I feel like I didn’t play as good as I should have against LSU and Georgia because I felt like those kind of thoughts were in my head. I really think it made me play bad. I really feel that way. I wish I didn’t, but I do. That’s something where I really took this last off-week, and I actually went out of town with some of my buddies and, to me, that just kind of cleared my mind and got all that stuff out of my head. I refocused, man, and I’m back, and I’m ready to play football. I’m not worried about anything else right now. I’m worried about helping this team win and being the best player I can be for them. I’m not worried about any of that other stuff — money, stats, production and all this other stuff.
“I hate to say that’s how it was, or how I was, but I’m just being real with you.”
Q: I’ve seen some of your fishing pictures. Are you a redneck?
STOCKER: “(Laughter.) I don’t know if I’m a redneck, but I do like to wet the line from time to time. During the season, that never happens. But during the spring and summer, I love to get out on the water and just relax. It’s just awesome to get out there and really not worry about time or anything else. I don’t worry about being anywhere at a certain time. I just get out there and get on my own schedule, and I love it. That’s what I love about fishing.”
Q: You’re from Kentucky and love to fish. You’re a redneck. Just say it.
STOCKER: “(Laughter.) I don’t know, man. I like lots of stuff.”
Q: What’s the biggest fish you’ve ever caught?
STOCKER: “I’m a big bass fisherman. My biggest largemouth was seven pounds and three-quarters (of an ounce).”
Q: Here’s a redneck test: What’s playing on your iPod right now?
STOCKER: “I don’t know. It’s probably some Michael Buble or some John Mayer.”
Q: That’s way, way too soft to be redneck.
STOCKER: “(Laughter.) Naw, man. That’s good stuff.”
Q: I forgot you’re an engaged man. Your taste in music makes more sense now. By the way, what’s it like to be engaged while playing SEC football? It’s happened here before, but it’s definitely not too common.
STOCKER: “It’s great, man. Great. I couldn’t be happier.”
Q: Are you as tough as you were before you got engaged?
STOCKER: “(Laughter.) I think so. I think that just shows you how smart I am.”
Q: I’ve seen your fiancé. You are kind of smart.
STOCKER: “I just ... I got this girl, man ... and I know I couldn’t do any better, so I went ahead and locked her down.”
Q: Wasn’t she a beauty pageant winner or something like that?
STOCKER: “She was. She was Miss Kingsport. And she deserved it.”
Q: Did you meet her down here at school?
STOCKER: “Yeah. She goes to school here.”
Q: Still, do you realize what you’ve given up? You’re an SEC football player. You’ll be in the NFL next year. You must feel extremely good about your situation.
STOCKER: “Oh, I do. No doubt, man. She’s unbelievable. She’s wonderful. There’s no way I could do any better. I’m so lucky, man.”
Q: Did you make the decision to come back for your senior season, or did she? Don’t lie. I have sources.
STOCKER: “(Laughter.) She said, ‘Whatever you do, I’ll work with you. We’ll get everything scheduled out.’ We were already engaged, but she didn’t push me one way or the other. She didn’t want to be the reason I came back or the reason I left. She didn’t want to be that. She was there mainly for support, and trying to help me make the decision. Once I decided to come back, she was all for it.”
Q: I’m sure she was all for it. She made the decision.
STOCKER: “(Laughter.) No, she didn’t. She didn’t.”
Q: Tell me something embarrassing that no one knows about one of your teammates.
STOCKER: “Oh, gosh. Gosh, man.”
Q: Give me an answer, or next week’s victim will be asked, “What’s the most embarrassing thing you can say about Luke Stocker?”
STOCKER: “I know, man. I know. Why do you have to put me on the spot like that? If you’d have given me time, I could have told you so many things.”
Q: That’s how now it goes. Nick Saban won’t tell you whether he’s blitzing. Think quick.
STOCKER: “OK, OK. I’ll tell you. ...The loudest snorer in the world is (junior middle linebacker) Austin Johnson. He’s the absolute loudest snorer I’ve ever heard in my entire life.”
Q: Has he never heard of nasal strips?
STOCKER: “I guess not. But he needs something. He needs, like, surgery. It’s terrible.”
Q: Ouch. Cold. That’s one of your best friends. I like it.
STOCKER: “It’s bad, man. It’s really bad.”
Q: But just the other day, you tweeted “I love you” to Austin. Will his snoring affect things in the long haul, or will you guys find a way to make it work?
STOCKER: “(Laughter.) I don’t know. We’ll have to get separate rooms, I guess.”
Q: Does your fiancé know how you feel about Austin?
STOCKER: “She loves him, too.”
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com or 865-851-9739.
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