New York Giants star pass rusher Justin Tuck shares how he ignored peer pressure to find success where it matters most: in the classroom
I grew up in Kellyton, Alabama, a small town. I have five sisters and a brother, and there were a lot of cousins around town. Both my parents worked for Russell Athletic Company's factory. At an early age, they instilled the importance of education in me.
My parents grew up at a time when they didn't have the kind of opportunities that I was going to have. I think that's why they always stressed education. They saw what I could do if I set myself up with good grades.
[Video: Watch Justin Tuck's interview with Kid Reporter Logan Glick]
Even when I was a kid, I knew I never wanted to have to work for someone. I wanted to be the boss of the business I chose to go into. My parents made sure I knew education was the way to do that.
Just like kids do today, I faced a lot of peer pressure growing up. My friends weren't as interested in school. They wanted me to hang out, play video games, chase girls, go to parties. It's not that I never did any of those things. But I always made sure my schoolwork was done first. If I was going to go to goof off later that night, I made it a priority to get through schoolwork first. And if I was going to go to a party but I didn't get my work done, I wouldn't go.
Math was probably my best subject when I was a kid. It came easy to me. But a lot of education starts with reading, and I loved to read too. My favorite books were the Mark Twain books, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer especially. He reminded me of me, and the things I did growing up in a small town. I still read a lot now. I enjoy reading autobiographies, from sports stars — I just finished [longtime NFL coach] Tony Dungy's book — to historical figures, like Martin Luther King Jr. And I've read four of Malcolm Gladwell's books.
Education Opens Doors
All of that hard work paid off when it came to college. I got good enough grades in high school to have my choice of college. I wanted to go away — I never understood why people go to college right near where they grew up. But I wanted to be close enough for my parents to be able to go to games, so the West Coast schools were out. Notre Dame offered a great football program and top-tier academics. Sports opened doors. But if I hadn't gotten good grades, I wouldn't have been able to go there.
I left Notre Dame with a year of eligibility left. But I earned my bachelor's degree in business management in four years. I'm not sure exactly what I'll do after my football career is done, but because I have that degree, I have options.
That's what I'm trying to communicate to kids through my foundation, Tuck's R.U.S.H. for Literacy. R.U.S.H. stands for Read, Understand, Succeed, Hope. When my wife, Lauran, and I were starting our charity, we wanted to do something that would help kids. Emphasizing the importance of literacy and, ultimately, education seemed like the best way to do it.
Know You Can Succeed
Part of what we do is just making sure kids know how important it is to work hard in school and get good grades. Unfortunately, there are a lot of kids who know the importance of education but are growing up in tough conditions. They might not be able to read books or learn what they should be learning due to factors outside their control. We provide books for schools that need them, and for kids who want to educate themselves but may need the resources to succeed.
I know there are kids out there who don't think they can succeed in school and get the grades to go to college. I want to let them know they can. It's like how an avalanche can start with one little pebble. I want kids to know that I believe in them. And that one little thing, knowing that one person believes in you, can end up being the start of great things.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Tuck says that book drives are a great way for kids to help others. Talk to a teacher or principal at your school about collecting new and used books that can be sent to kids who need them. Tuck's R.U.S.H. for Literacy Foundation provides books for selected schools in New York, New Jersey, and Alabama. Find more info at rushforliteracy.org.
PHOTO BY MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY PRE MEDIA;
ROB TRINGALI/SPORTSCHROME/GETTY IMAGES (Action photo)