Nothing excites Justin Tuck on a football field more than sacking the quarterback. He loves chasing his prey, wrapping him and putting him down, and hearing a roaring crowd's approval.
That play can get Tuck's adrenalin boiling.
But it's nothing compared to a child walking up to Tuck and saying, "I read because of you."
That actually happens quite often, because Justin Tuck's R.U.S.H. for Literacy has been such a huge success. The program encourages children to Read, Understand, Succeed and Hope as they continue to nurture literacy in their lives. This charity program is committed to raising funds to donate books and other reading materials to benefit communities in the tri-state area and Central Alabama, where Tuck grew up.
Tuck donates $25,000 a year to the program, an amount matched by several sponsors. R.U.S.H. for Literacy has raised more than $1.4 million, the vast majority of which has been donated to schools. The Giants' two-time Super Bowl champion is involved in numerous community and charitable endeavors. He has helped food banks and toy drives, hosted Special Olympics athletes and an annual charity billiards tournament, appeared at more dinners and luncheons than he can count. After a series of spring tornadoes devastated Tuscaloosa, Ala., near his hometown of Kellyton, Tuck visited the region and donated $275,000 to the relief effort. The money was raised in tandem with partners JPMorgan Chase and World Vision.
His commitment to helping others earned him the 2011 Giants Man of the Year Award.
"Regardless if you think you are or not, as a professional athlete, you're a role model," said Tuck, whose work in helping others earned him the United Way's Hometown Hero Award in 2010. "Kids are going to flock to what you do and if you tell them reading is cool, they're going to go read.
"It's very important to me to utilize my God-given abilities to broaden my platform and hopefully make a difference in many kids' lives. I look at it like this. One day, one of these kids is going to be making very, very important decisions on what this world's going to be like. Hopefully, they will have the education that they need to make those decisions. I'm going to be old one day, hopefully, and they're going to be making a lot of decisions that might affect what my life is going to be like."
But he or she can't make those decisions without being able to read.
Tuck and his wife, Lauran, whom he met when they were students at Notre Dame, are passionate about learning and education. Four years ago they partnered with Dennis Walcott, who was then New York's Deputy Mayor and is now the Schools Chancellor, and founded R.U.S.H. for Literacy. Tuck quickly discovered he could use a football tool to get the children's attention.
"They're so surprised when I take my playbook to school and show them what we have to learn on a weekly basis," Tuck said. "One of the biggest things I got early at the start of (his program) was, 'I don't need to know how to read to play football, or play a sport." Then you bring that playbook in and you show them what we have to learn every week and their eyes get wide and they say, 'Okay, I better learn how to read and read quickly.'"
R.U.S.H. for Literacy currently sponsors seven schools. Tuck visits them as often as possible. When he walks into a school and begins talking to the students, he often hears words that touch his heart in a way no quarterback sack can.
"I've had people in my program tell me, 'The only reason I started reading was because you said it was cool to read," Tuck said. "I always dare our kids to be different, don't follow the norm, and now I'm having kids that have been in the program for four years come back and tell me, 'My mom doesn't have to tell me to read at night now, I do it because I like it and I didn't know what the benefit was up until I had an opportunity to work with this program."
It's that kind of affirmation that encourages Tuck to keep the program going.
"You're making a difference in somebody's life," Tuck said. "I mean a sack is great, too, don't get me wrong, but to have somebody come up and say, 'You made a difference in my life,' that's a tremendous feeling, because you only get one of these lives. We're not cats, we just get one and you just want to make it as enriched and as enjoyable as possible. I don't see how you can have fun or you can enjoy life without knowing that you made a difference in somebody else's life. If you just go through life and think about me, me, me all day, that gets old. For me, it's very satisfying doing something to make a difference."
The members of the Giants community relations department are never hesitant about asking Tuck to appear at an event. If he has the time, chances are Tuck will be there.
"It's hard for me to say 'no' to anything involving kids and education," Tuck said. "We do a lot of stuff with United Way, we do a lot of stuff with the Boys & Girls Club, a lot of stuff with a lot of programs. It's just something that I think is necessary, especially given the platform to make a difference that we have being star athletes. I'm just trying to utilize that the best way possible."
Tuck believes he would be wasting a gift if he didn't help other people.
"I've been tremendously blessed having the opportunity to do what I do and make a great living doing it," he said. "The only reason I had this opportunity, or made the best of it, was because I've had a lot of people in my camp leading me and pushing me and directing me in the way that I need to go. I think a lot of time guys want to take all the credit for themselves by just their hard work or their God-given talents. But along the way, somebody had to push them. I owe a lot of 'thank yous' to a lot of people, including my mom and dad. Without them, I might have not been on this right path. So it's easy to look at it and say, 'Why not give back?' Hopefully, somebody will be thanking me one day for giving them the opportunity or making sure they didn't take the wrong path."