The following story was published in the fall 2022 edition of Bruin Blue Magazine.
By Jon Gold
Limping around his grandfather’s funeral in July 2020, his knee in shreds and his heart even worse, Tucker Lepley already felt a deeper pain than anyone could imagine.
Yet each time he was arrested – “Are you okay? How bad is it? How long have you been out?” – he grimaced a little more. At the time, he didn’t know if his ACL was torn or still intact.
Not that it mattered much, anyway. He had just lost his best friend, after spending so many months away from him.
“It was,” he said, “the worst week of my life.”
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In some ways, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a mixed blessing for Lepley.
He had spent the previous two years of his life – his childhood – nearly 1,000 miles from his hometown of Charlotte living with a host family in Kansas City while training with Sporting Club KC’s academy.
Ever since he was 10, people had been telling Lepley he would become a professional soccer player, and he had the passport stamps to prove it. Tournaments in Spain and Belgium, England and the Netherlands, not forgetting all of the United States. He was the first American selected to be tried by Unión Esportiva Cornellà, a Spanish soccer team based in Cornellà de Llobregat in the Catalonia region of Spain, but due to international player rules he was unable to attend. to register.
After his first two years in high school, playing for the Charlotte Soccer Academy, Lepley was hungry for competition. Spain was not there. He chose Kansas City, went on trial with the club, and was offered a spot. He left Charlotte to live with strangers in the Midwest.
With Kansas City, he played 10 professional games with Sporting KC II – the club’s reserve team based in the United Soccer League – making his professional debut at 16 while maintaining college eligibility. While playing on the academy team and training with the first team, Lepley shone in the showcases, catching the eye of college scouts, including the UCLA head coach. ryan jordan.
Jorden remembers seeing Lepley in person for the first time in 2018 when he was 16.
“I saw him and thought he was the most interesting footballer in the whole academy,” he said. “He’s not a big guy, but his technical quality, his desire, his will to win and compete are all there, as well as a great footballing spirit. His sense of how the game should be played, his ability to solve problems and to attack.You need to have technical and athletic ability, but feeling is what sets great players apart.
Recruiting Lepley was easy.
“I trained on a Tuesday afternoon, flew to Los Angeles, landed Tuesday night, met the coach, went to bed, had breakfast, saw the campus, talked about the game and went home Wednesday night,” Lepley said. “I saw everything I needed to see. UCLA is a school you can’t say no to.”
Jorden added: “The scouting networks of these clubs are expanding, the identification of these players is improving and they are training all year round to help stimulate their thinking and thought processes. Tucker is a great example of a kid who didn’t have a professional club and who crossed the other side of the country in a team that invested in what they saw in him.”
In March 2020, almost two years after he left home, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Sporting KC to shut down and send their academy players home.
Lepley would have a chance to recapture some of his lost youth, playing football with his friends back home as he trained to start his career at UCLA. More importantly, he would spend time with his best friend. Valuable time, it would turn out.
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James “Casey” Hoover Glasscock is his name. Why do we say “was” when someone passes by? For Lepley, his grandfather remains eternal.
Glasscock was born in 1933 in Buffalo Springs, Virginia, a good athlete, just like his grandson. Only he excelled at baseball. Glasscock would go on to play for North Carolina State before being called up by the United States Army. To understand it a little better: After retiring from a career in banking, Glasscock volunteered over 6,000 hours at a local hospital.
And while his military service ended his playing career, it didn’t end his stellar career. He was a loyal baseball fan for the rest of his life and an avid NASCAR fan. Living just up the road from the birthplace of NASCAR made sense.
Football was not one of his passions. That is to say, until he sees his grandson play. One of the highlights of Lepley’s career was returning to Charlotte for a game against Charlotte FC and getting the chance to play a professional game in front of his grandfather.
“Growing up, I remember him telling my dad, ‘Tucker has to play baseball,'” Lepley said. “But he said to my dad after the game, I guess Tucker is pretty good at this football thing.”
When his parents divorced — his mother a teacher, his father working downtown — Lepley spent more time with Glasscock, who picked him up from school and treated him to dinner.
“Vienna sausages,” Lepley said. “We would have Vienna sausages with crackers and a Coke.”
Returning home for the first time in ages, Lepley was so excited to have Vienna sausages again.
But on July 17, 2020, Glasscock died at the age of 87.
Lepley was heartbroken. Glasscock was his grandfather, but also his friend and confidant.
Fortunately, Lepley was at home when it happened, surrounded by his oldest and closest friends. The day before Glasscock’s funeral, Lepley went out into the fields with friends to take his mind off things. Dribbling the ball, Lepley went for a move, but when he planted, his foot got stuck in the turf.
“I felt pain that I had never felt before and I knew it,” he said. “It’s not a normal injury.”
To his knees and to his heart.
“That’s why I remember the day it happened,” Lepley said.
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Lepley let himself feel sorry for himself for, oh, about a minute.
He wasn’t going to let his first major injury rob him of his passion for the game.
“When I first got hurt, there was a realization that went like, ‘Wow, I’m going to be out of the game longer than I’ve ever been,” said Lepley. “I won’t be able to touch a ball for what, eight months? Twelve months? It was hard to swallow. I gave the game my all, and to have it taken away from me, I really enjoyed it.”
For an active and excitable kid like Lepley, being sidelined was a drag, but he was at least home, recuperating with the help of his loved ones.
“I’m grateful that my injury happened at home,” he said. “I was able to be surrounded by my family, have them take care of me, have my friends around me. The worst part of rehabilitation is the very beginning – it almost feels like you can’t do the functions of My parents and friends were there to keep me up, play Xbox, whatever I could do to take my mind off things.”
The second he was given the green light, Lepley embarked vigorously on rehab. He started walking within weeks and jogging at three months. Six weeks in a corset.
“I knew he was going to attack ACL reconstruction and recovery the same way he attacked while playing in the game,” Jorden said. “I had no concerns about the trajectory of his recovery. He followed it and did it in the fastest time possible. It didn’t surprise me at all. It was fun to watch the process of making him confident again in his physical abilities.”
Lepley was forced to miss his true freshman season in 2020-21, using a redshirt season.
Returning to full strength in the fall of 2021, Lepley quickly proved his injury was a thing of the past, leading the Bruins in assists and points while being named the team’s MVP and freshman All-American. .
His goal this season? Help UCLA restore its former greatness.
“UCLA’s football history is rich,” Lepley said. “Pac-12 championships, four national titles. The last one was the year I was born, 2002. That’s part of the vision I had with the coach. Let’s go back to what it was. For my first year, “Winning 11 games is a good start. If we don’t win the Pac-12 this year, it’s a one-season disappointment. That’s our basic goal.
Lepley is very motivated for the season, but if he needs more motivation he looks down.
“I have a tattoo of my grandfather’s birthday on my forearm,” he said. “I also have his funeral card in my wallet every day. He’s still with me. After he tore my ACL, he passes away, it was like, where do I go from here? I said , get up, let’s fight, that’s all we got That’s all he taught me I fought and fought last year and I was lucky to be a part of freshman team, all regions team.
“And now I’m hungry for more.”