Wearing a burnt orange and white bucket hat and polo shirt with black shorts, Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey was easy to spot in the sea of youth football players Saturday morning.
The former Lake Taylor High football star was back to where it all began.
In 2015, he helped the Titans finish as state runners-up. As a senior the next year, he led the Titans’ vaunted defense with 122 tackles — including 29 for loss — seven sacks, recovered four fumbles and returned two interceptions for touchdowns. He also scored 14 touchdowns on offense.
His play earned him first-team All-Tidewater honors, as well as all-state, and he was the Conference 17 Player of the Year.
He went to James Madison, where he became an FCS All-American linebacker for the Dukes.
Two months ago, however, he transferred to Texas, where he plans to be a major contributor on defense.
But on Saturday morning, Tucker-Dorsey was home, hoping to influence and motivate the next generation of players through his Tuck’s Youth Football Camp.
“I want to be an inspiration, so they can see somebody in the community that they came from and be inspired by it,” he said. “We didn’t see that when I was coming up.”
Growing up in the Oceanview area, he always dreamed of playing college football, even when it wasn’t so clear.
“I always envisioned a better life for myself,” he said. “I knew I always wanted to be different and be one of those people who did something with their lives. I didn’t want to be a statistic.”
Lake Taylor head football coach Hank Sawyer arrived at school at 7 a.m. to help with the camp.
He said Tucker-Dorsey told him a few months ago that he wanted to hold a youth football camp at Lake Taylor.
“This is home for him. This is where he played for us,” he said. “Here’s a kid who is still in school, and he wants to give back already. Some people wait until they make it and then forget where they come from. But he wants to give back right now.”
Sawyer always knew there was something special about Tucker-Dorsey. He remembers even as a 10th-grader, Tucker-Dorsey was such a ferocious hitter that he knocked the helmet off of teammates in practice.
By his senior year, he had become a star who terrorized opposing players.
Unfortunately, when college coaches came recruiting, they wondered if Tucker-Dorsey would be successful because he was only 5-foot-10.
“I told him to make people pay. Make them remember you,” Sawyer said to Tucker-Dorsey, who was the No. 12 senior in South Hampton Roads for the Class of 2017.
Tucker-Dorsey remembered that. But he also wanted to be prepared for life if college football wasn’t an option, so he learned a trade as a welder while still in high school.
But then came an offer from JMU. He redshirted his first year and played special teams in his second. The next two seasons, he earned a starting spot, including making all-conference.
Last season was his breakout year as he had a team-best 116 tackles, six quarterback hurries, four interceptions, four pass breakups, three sacks and two forced fumbles. He was named first-team All-Colonial Athletic Association and was named to three FCS All-American teams.
“It was an amazing experience,” he said about JMU. “I really feel like the mentality that I brought in, and my approach to the game and everything I learned from Hank, really set me apart.”
Betting on himself again, Tucker-Dorsey decided to enter the transfer portal two months ago.
It was an experience he didn’t expect as schools that passed over him when he was a high school senior were now wanting his services.
He was arguably the most coveted player on the market.
“He blew up in the transfer portal. Everyone in the country wanted him,” Sawyer said. “Some of the head coaches were calling me.”
Tucker-Dorsey was admittedly taken aback by the attention.
“I was surprised just because of how it went the first time when I was in high school,” he said. “When I really thought about it, I was hopeful for that. I knew I had a great season last year, and you couldn’t deny that. So I was surprised, but more blessed than anything.”
Tucker-Dorsey was in the portal for only a week and a half. When choosing a school, he had his own checklist, including immediate playing time, the defensive scheme, depth at the linebacker position and wearing his favorite No. 2 jersey.
“It was a business decision for me, so I approached it that way,” he said. ”I went through that checklist and made sure it was the best fit for me. And Texas checked off all of the boxes.”
But before heading to Austin next month, Tucker-Dorsey wanted to hold this camp.
“You never want to forget where you come from,” he said. “That’s something that I pride myself on in the way that I carry myself.”
He called around, getting commitments from many, including Old Dominion quarterback and former Norview quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. and former teammate Dez Palmer, both former All-Tidewater players.
“Tuck always had this in him. He was always the type of guy who was going to put his work in and make sure he gave back whenever he can,” said Palmer, who played for VMI and Virginia State. “He always looked out for his brothers, and always looked out for his family. And that’s what he’s doing right now,”
Julio Ayamel and Isaac Ukwu played with Tucker-Dorsey at JMU. When he called, both gladly made the trek from Maryland to support their former teammate.
Ayamel said Tucker-Dorsey earned the nickname “The Voice” at JMU because of his leadership.
“He used to lead by example by his hard work,” he said. “And when you needed that voice to pick everybody up, he was the one that did it. That’s how he got that name. So when he called me and said he’s having a camp, I wanted to come.”
Ukwu and Tucker-Dorsey arrived at JMU as freshmen in 2017.
“When he asked me to come, it was no question,” Ukwu said. “It’s really big to do things in your community. You can’t always tackle the big life issues, but just being able to help a couple of kids and touch a couple of kids’ lives in a positive way, it really means a lot.”
Tucker-Dorsey’s brother, Tyrique, also came out to help.
“He’s always been like that. So when he said he was going to do this, I was like, ‘Let’s go,’” said Tyrique, who will play for JMU this fall. “I want to support him and do it, too. It feels good to give back to the community that we were raised in.”
Tucker-Dorsey will head to Austin next month to prepare for the Big 12 season and a nonconference showdown against Alabama on Sept. 10.
He hopes this season will set him up for his ultimate dream: playing in the NFL.
“It will mean everything for me,” said Tucker-Dorsey, who has a degree in public policy and administration. “This is what I’ve been working for since I was 8 years old. It’s always been a dream of mine. To be able to do that would be a dream come true.
“But I have to handle my business. God willing, it will happen. So I’m just blessed to be in the position that I’m in. I’m in the driver’s seat right now, and I feel real good.”
Larry Rubama, 757-575-6449, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @LHRubama