It would have been enough just to worry about being a first-time head coach in a traditionally successful program, but Tucker also had to deal with a new school system, new players, new parents and new responsibilities that comes with the job.
All the while, he was trying to win with a roster full of young and talented, if not very experienced players.
The result was an admirable 10-14 overall mark for his team and a wealth of knowledge gained.
“It’s not so much what I learned (about being a head coach) rather that just being a lot more comfortable with my surroundings this year,” Tucker said. “I’ve developed relationships with the kids and community and just got a general feel for how athletics work at Ridgeland.”
“Now I’m comfortable with the situation,” Tucker added. “It feels like home.”
As Tucker has grown more accustomed to his new job, so have his players grown more accustomed to their new coach.
“You could see it in the first week of practice,” he explained. “The kids understood what to do like I’d been here five or six years. Everything is running more smoothly this year. We all seem more relaxed and confident.”
But there won’t be much time to relax in a region where no game is a gimme.
Five seniors will lead the 2004 version of the Panthers, all with a good deal of experience.
Adam Knight is the ace of the pitching staff and is coming off a 6-3 mark in 2003 with an ERA of around 4.00.
Knight is bigger and stronger than last year and is locating his pitches better. Tucker believes his leadership and enthusiasm, along with his abilities, could make Knight a college prospect.
Dusty Wright came around offensively in the final weeks of the 2003 season and is hitting the ball well in the preseason. Tucker believes Wright has matured more than anyone else on the team and will become a leader for the Panthers in centerfield.
Another veteran is Jeremy Bankston. Bankston has worked hard in the off-season and will patrol the hot corner for Ridgeland this spring.
Brandon Gilliam opened a lot of eyes after batting .370 last season. He will move from the outfield to first base this season. Tucker hopes added strength in off-season workouts will produce more RBIs this year.
Ridgeland’s final senior, David Napier, was the team’s primary pinch runner last year. He will play a versatile role as a utility man this season.
Three juniors also bring a lot of value to the team.
Bret Baker has started since his freshman year and will see time at multiple positions in the infield.
Josh Glover impressed in a limited role at catcher last season and will take over behind the plate in 2004. Ben Greene is a hard worker and will see most of his time at second base.
As a freshman, Scott Guest turned in one of the best seasons for a first-year player in school history, batting .448 and a school record 26 stolen bases. Now a sophomore, Guest will again be a force at shortstop and will see time in a relief role on the mound.
Michael Gay seems to be fully recovered from an injury-plagued freshman campaign. Gay will log his share of innings and also see time in the outfield while hitting in the middle of the order.
Rick Wilson pitched well in limited varsity action last year and added strength will benefit the lefty on the hill for the varsity team this year.
Jeremy Powell, Lee Lunsford and Zach Cross will provide depth off the bench.
After being the lone freshman on the varsity football team, Alex Napier will be in the same position on the baseball team. A talented multi-sport athlete, the younger Napier is a five-tool player and already battling for a starting spot in the outfield and on the mound.
“We’re not making any predictions,” Tucker said. “Our big thing this year is to worry only about Ridgeland baseball. Every day, we’re going to work hard and play hard and hopefully get mentally tougher as the year goes on. We just have to worry about ourselves. This is baseball. Who knows what will happen?