Corey Rucker doesn’t fancy himself a Jimmy Page or Eddie Van Halen. He quips he’s on his way, though, learning the intro to Chris Stapleton’s hit “Tennessee Whiskey” on the guitar.
If South Carolina has its way, the Arkansas State transfer receiver — aka “Rockstar Ruck” — will torch defenses with the same ease Jimi Hendrix shredded his Fender Stratocaster.
“I’ve just kind of embraced it,” Rucker told The State. “I said, ‘If I’m gonna be a rock star, I’ve got to go get a guitar.’ ”
Rucker’s moniker predates his time at South Carolina or Arkansas State. The name, he explains, arose in high school, but has more recently taken on a life of its own.
Jamming to “Rockstar” by Lil Durk at a party shortly after it was released in 2018, Rucker bounced around yelling the lyrics all night. His friends and teammates took notice. The name stuck.
Rucker added a guitar emoji next to his profile name on Twitter as a subtle nod. His personalized brand “Rockstar Ruck Apparel” features everything from T-shirts and hoodies to flags and beanies with his nickname emblazoned between a pair of guitars.
It even inspired a recent in-house photoshoot featuring Rucker, a guitar and a set of shots that would make rock ’n’ roll marketing execs blush.
“High school kids, they’re goofy,” said Brad Smothermon, Rucker’s offensive coordinator at Yazoo County High School. “They start something and it sticks. … He just started something and he went with it.”
Corey Rucker shows off his shoes during team media day on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022 in the Jerri and Steve Spurrier Indoor Practice Facility. Tracy Glantz [email protected]
Rucker ready for SEC stage
That Rucker’s adopted nickname insinuates bright lights and big stages is fitting. The former Red Wolves receiver is boisterous and effervescent. His ear-to-ear smile is one in a million.
He’s quirky, charismatic and a boundless ball of energy. Just take the sparkly silver ball cap emblazoned with a unicorn on its front he donned during USC’s on-campus media day as evidence. He spotted it at the mall in recent weeks, he said, and it “spoke to him.”
His play, too, has garnered plenty of attention.
Rucker led Arkansas State in receiving last fall, recording 826 yards and nine touchdowns despite inconsistent quarterback play from the combo of Florida State transfer James Blackman and incumbent Layne Hatcher.
The Bentonia, Mississippi product burst onto the scene a year earlier, dancing through Louisiana-Monroe’s secondary for 310 yards and four touchdowns — the 16th-best single-game receiving yardage output in NCAA football history.
“I think he’s got the talent and skill set to be there (at South Carolina), for sure,” said Hatcher, who started his career at Alabama. “I think he can do great things and, at the end of the day, it just comes down to how hard you work. I believe he’ll work hard enough to do that and then it’s all up to him from that point.”
Where Rucker fits in with South Carolina’s revamped offense this fall remains a bit of mystery, and that’s due largely to increased depth at the position.
Josh Vann, who led the Gamecocks in receiving a year ago, is back in the fold. James Madison transfer receiver and Rucker’s roommate Antwane “Juice” Wells is also expected to be a big piece in the passing game this fall. Tight ends Jaheim Bell, Austin Stogner (Oklahoma) and Nate Adkins (East Tennessee State) all have high-end receiving ability as well.
Rucker should work out of the slot, depending on formations. That’ll leave him competing for time with Ahmarean Brown — a former Georgia Tech transfer who played his best ball late in the 2021 season — and Duke’s Mayo Bowl MVP Dakereon Joyner, among others.
“They get along with the guys really well and mesh really well,” South Carolina receivers coach Justin Stepp said of Rucker and Wells. “That is one thing you worry about when you bring in new guys is, how the rest of the group is going to receive them. But they get in the room, working, being quiet and showing up for work.”
Corey Rucker runs drills during the Gamecocks first day of practice on Friday, August 5, 2022. Sam Wolfe Special To The State
Another year, another change
Rucker, on some level, is used to the transition that comes with being a transfer. He’s spent the better part of the last five years adjusting to new places, coaches and teammates.
His high school career included stops at Madison Central and Yazoo County. Rucker also played for two different staffs at Arkansas State between head coaches Blake Anderson — whose crew recruited Rucker to Jonesboro — and Butch Jones. This offseason brought another set of new surroundings.
Rucker audibly gasped at South Carolina’s media day last week when informed he’s played for three different head coaches at the college level and five different head coaches overall in the last five years.
“Woah, hold on,” Rucker said, astonished at the revelation. “You just shocked me with that one. That is crazy.”
Transitions aside, the hope is Rucker will be another weapon for quarterback Spencer Rattler and a unit that ranked 13th of 14 teams in the Southeastern Conference in total offense a year ago.
South Carolina is in the process of finalizing a new light and sound system at Williams-Brice Stadium for the 2022 season.
Don’t be surprised if “Rockstar Ruck” takes center stage when the switch flips for the first time this fall.
The State’s Lou Bezjak contributed reporting to this story
This story was originally published August 9, 2022 5:00 AM.
Ben Portnoy is The State’s South Carolina Gamecocks football beat writer. He’s a five-time Associated Press Sports Editors award honoree and has earned recognition from the Mississippi Press Association and the National Sports Media Association. Portnoy previously covered Mississippi State for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch and Indiana football for the Journal Gazette in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.