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Tuck hungry for more after breaking record

Chris Federico | Thursday, December 4, 2003

By Justin Tuck’s self-imposed standards, he hasn’t had a good game yet.

The Irish defensive end sets a goal each game to record six quarterback sacks, and while Tuck has not reached that feat yet, he has had some very impressive performances for the Irish this season.

“I go into every game thinking, ‘I’m going to get six sacks,’ and I’m disappointed if I don’t,” Tuck said.

But it’s hard to believe the 6-foot-5, 246-pound junior was disappointed with his performance Saturday, as he recorded 3.5 sacks against Stanford to clinch the Notre Dame single season record for sacks – he now has 13.5 on the year.

Tuck said that, during the game, it didn’t register that he had clinched the record. But he took an opportunity after the game to think about where his record and accomplishment places him in Notre Dame football history.

“They told me at halftime that I had [the record]. It really didn’t sink in until after the game,” he said. “But then I started thinking about the defensive linemen that have played here. And after the game I talked to my dad, and he said that the announcers had said something about it during the game. It became a bigger thing as it went on.”

Right now, Tuck ranks third in the country with 1.23 sacks per game. With one contest left to play against Syracuse, the overall national sack lead is not out of his sights, as he stands only three sacks behind the leader, David Ball of UCLA.

“I’m shooting for [the lead],” Tuck said. “I think every game I’m shooting for at least six, and I’m shooting for six Saturday.”

In addition to the sacks, Tuck led the team in tackling against the Cardinal with seven stops Saturday. He is second on the Irish with 72 tackles on the year and ranks eighth in the country in tackles for loss with 1.73 per game.

Tuck’s high standards may be a product of the teachings of his head coach, Tyrone Willingham, who teaches his players always to strive for perfection. And Willingham has remained on top of Tuck and pushed him to improve, knowing that the young defensive end stills has areas of his game in which he can get better. Willingham is confident that Tuck can be more than just a dominating pass rusher, and that he can develop into one of the better all-around defensive ends in the country.

“We love a lot of things that Justin Tuck brings, and that’s not just in the passing game,” Willingham said. “He’s continued to develop in all phases of the game, and we need him to continue to develop in those phases, and he’s responded well to those challenges.”

Still, Tuck may be his own biggest critic, as he is hesitant to accept accolades for his play in the past, and he only wants to make himself better.

“I think I’m my hardest critic,” Tuck said. “I look at the games and people will say, ‘You made a good play there,’ but I look at it like I could have done a little more than I did. But I should be like that. If you get content with things you’ve done, you’ll never reach your full potential.”