BY CHELSEA PARKER
With 63.5 sacks over the course of 10 seasons in the NFL, accompanied by two Super Bowl victories, most wouldn't hesitate to define Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck's career as successful.
Tuck, however, recognizes that a successful career goes far beyond something you can measure with statistics.
He finds value outside of all the numbers and understands that any individual accomplishments really mean nothing without the help from teammates and the relationships you build on the team.
"Individually, I've never really paid attention to individual goals because I understand that it's 10 other people out there on that football field that's helping you make that play." Tuck said. "Any success I've had individually, I always have owed it to my teammates."
Of those 10 other guys on the field, Tuck plays alongside both veterans and rookies and has taken up a role as a mentor to rookie linebacker Khalil Mack. This is nothing new for him, as he first took on the role in his fifth NFL season to Giants Jason Pierre-Paul in his rookie season, but nonetheless, he is taking this job seriously.
When Coach Sparano took over as Raiders Interim Head Coach, he rearranged the locker room, strategically placing Mack's locker right next to Tuck's.
Acknowledging that this was indeed no accident, Tuck smiles and nods, saying, "I understand that Khalil is the future of this league. I know that he definitely has the ability to be a tremendous player in this league and I just wanted to have the opportunity to kind of pour into him some of the experiences I've had. I'm not saying I know it all, but obviously I've seen a lot of things in this league.
"One thing I love about him is he's not afraid to ask," Tuck laughed, "Sometimes he gets on my nerves with all the questions he wants to ask, but like I said, he's a tremendous talent and just a good kid and obviously I want to do anything in my power to kind of help him be a success in this league."
Tuck is working to impart his wisdom upon young players in the same way that his mentor, Michael Strahan did.
Tuck said, "Getting the opportunity to come in as a rookie with the Giants and him [Michael Strahan] being right there, my locker being right beside his. He taught me a lot of things, not only about football, but about life and about being a man, and the responsibilities we have with the platform that we have as athletes. Michael definitely is that guy for me."
In Tuck's eyes, the impact veterans have on younger players is what keeps the league moving.
"I think that's why this game is so great because it's been so many people in that situation that took that responsibility seriously," Tuck said. "I wouldn't be the player that I am today if Strahan wouldn't have mentored me. He wouldn't be the player that he was if somebody wouldn't have mentored him. I think that role in our league is very important."
DE Justin Tuck on the field with veteran Charles Woodson and rookie Khalil Mack. Photo by Tony Gonzales
Leading a team isn't always easy and although this season has been challenging, Tuck stresses the importance of leading through adversity.
"I always tell people it's easy to lead and it's easy to be positive when you're winning," Tuck said. "I think the best way to lead in a situation like this is just by how you come to work every day and how you perform in practice and in the meeting room. They watch you and they see older guys, 'Is he still engaging in the meetings? Is he still going to practice and sweating and working his butt off?' That's the thing the watch. You can talk all you want to, but if you're not out here working and doing the things that you're supposed to do, that's what they notice and that's the thing they're going to remember."
Though Tuck has been on teams with veterans in the past, none have had as many experienced veterans as this Raiders team. They have all joined together to lead the team and serve as positive mentors.
"You've got so many like-minded people and it takes a lot of the burden off of me and obviously I take a lot of burden off the next guy," Tuck said. "It's kind of like that leadership by committee. We've got so many guys that have done it and done it well, it makes it a little bit easier. It's been fun."
After 10 seasons in the league, football still hasn't lost its appeal for Tuck. Whether he's spending time with first-year player Mack or the 17-year veteran Charles Woodson, he acknowledges that the camaraderie is a big part of what brings him back to work every day.
"I think the biggest thing is just the camaraderie between teammates, being in that locker room with those guys, lifting weights, going to war with those guys every week is something that I feel like you're always going to miss it when it's not there," Tuck said. "Plus, you get the opportunity to play in front of 80,000 people every week. You can't go work a nine to five and get that opportunity and that's something that you can't recreate. That's what brings me back to work every day."