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Football: Tasker’s rising stock has St. Francis grad thinking NFL

After a record-breaking career playing wide receiver for Cornell University, St. Francis High School graduate Luke Tasker is looking to follow in his father’s footsteps and play in the NFL. (Photo courtesy of Cornell University)

As the son of an NFL veteran of 13 seasons, Luke Tasker has been around the game of football for virtually his entire life. And in all of that time, he’s dreamed of following in the footsteps of his father and former Buffalo Bill Steve Tasker.

So, while the academics offered by Cornell University was a big part of his decision to attend the Ivy League institution, Tasker believed playing for the Division I-AA football program could also provide him the opportunity to potentially become a professional in the sport.

Luke believed if he played well enough he’d get noticed and move a step closer to continuing a Tasker tradition in the NFL. The St. Francis High School graduate enjoyed such a noteworthy career and then did well enough at a Pro Day workout to be considered an NFL prospect, albeit one that may need to take the free agent route to a potential team.

The 5-foot-11, 192-pound wide receiver and punt returner ended a four-year career with Cornell racking up 2,482 receiving yards to rank second all-time at the school and 13th best for a career in the Ivy League.

His record-breaking senior season included hauling in 75 passes, which ranked him ninth nationally with 7.5 per game, for a school single-season record 1,207 yards, which ranked him fourth in the nation with 120.7 per game. Also during an All-American Third Team season he caught eight touchdowns.

“This has been my dream for a very long time, since my days at St. Francis and even before that when I was a little kid. It’s never really gone away,” said Tasker, who’s finishing up his final semester at Cornell, while working out in preparation for a shot at the NFL.

“Getting this opportunity is like a dream come true, but I’m also going into it with a good attitude,” he added. “It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t work out. Even if I get a chance to play in Canada, I’d take that. No matter what, I’ll still have a degree from Cornell.”

It was his work at Cornell’s Pro Day on March 8 that may have taken him a step closer to an NFL tryout and maybe even getting a call during the NFL draft weekend April 25-27.

On an indoor turf field, Tasker ran the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds and as his former offensive coach at St. Francis, John Scibetta, pointed out, just as importantly, the Cornell senior finished with an impressive 4.07 seconds in the short shuttle run, which tests a player’s lateral quickness, ability to change direction quickly, and explosiveness over short distances.

He also recorded a 33-and-a-half inch vertical, a 9-foot-7 broad jump and a 6.70-second three-cone drill and benched 225 pounds nine times. Fourteen NFL teams were present to see Tasker and fellow All-American, offensive tackle J.C. Tretter, who’s expected to be drafted.

“I helped myself out Friday,” Tasker said of his Pro Day performance. “I did things better than people expected. In terms of teams interested, that’s too far off right now. But my agent and I got positive feedback from multiple people there.”

On the day he signed his letter of intent with Cornell in February 2009, longtime Red Raiders’ head coach Jerry Smith said that once at the college and focused strictly on his work on the field and in the classroom, Tasker would have a chance to “really shine” at the next level. Smith seems to have been on the ball on that one.

“His Pro Day really created some opportunity for him,” Smith said Tuesday (March 19) after Tasker made a spring break visit to the school the day prior. “There’s no doubt I think some people missed the boat on Luke going into college. But how can you argue with Cornell as a school? Not only is he getting an Ivy league education, but he might be able to make it to the NFL, too.”

After his Pro Day, Luke also received positive feedback from his seven-time Pro Bowl father, who was in attendance at the workout and offered some sound advice to his son beforehand, as well. Luke said his father calmed him down by putting the experience of Pro Day in perspective.

“I’ll never forget his advice,” said the Ivy League’s top pass catcher and yardage gainer this year. “He just said to confirm in people’s minds what you can do; you’ve worked hard, now go out and do it. It’s not a football game; it’s just a show of how hard you’ve been working.”

Like his father, who was such a key special team ace in his NFL playing days, Luke has always tried to exhibit his value to a team.

“Watching Luke both at St. Francis and Cornell, it has always amazed me how unselfish he is,” said Nate Suchyna, an assistant football coach and trainer at St. Francis. “To me, Luke has always been driven to do whatever was necessary to make the team better, whether the play called for him to get the ball, be a decoy or block. When I coached Luke, I wanted everyone on the team to play like him.”

Will it all be enough for Tasker to be drafted is yet to be determined. As of last week, Tasker was ranked 69th among receivers in this year’s draft by nfldraftscout.com. According to the website, an average of 31 wide receivers were selected the past five drafts and about 85 more will make it to an NFL camp.

“I’d love to be drafted — it’s more of a security thing,” Tasker said. “If that doesn’t happen, I’d love to be invited to a camp anywhere. I just want to get a chance to let myself be judged as a player and to see how I stack up at that level. Whether I’m a free agent or drafted, I’d just be happy to go where I go.”

Tasker wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine but if those same teams are watching game film, they’d have to at least give him some consideration.

He recorded a pair of 200-yard games as a senior, including 10 catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Princeton, and against Monmouth, set a Cornell single-game record with 280 receiving yards on 11 catches with one touchdown.

“I am proud of what I was able to do at Cornell,” Tasker said. “I’ve felt so blessed to be around the people I’ve played with. It’s a great game but also a strange game — you don’t have production all on your own. It comes from having good circumstances and good players around you. ”

Training for a pro shot

In between semesters after his senior football season, Tasker went to go train focusing on speed and agility with his father’s former teammate, Don Beebe, in Aurora, Ill. There, he learned many explosive movements that helped him at his Pro Day and shaped his workouts upon returning to school for the spring semester.

While taking 15 credits so that he can graduate in May, Tasker is still working out many times twice a day, doing regular strength training along with a football specific workout.

“It’s hectic but in a good way — it’s going great...I’ve had seven semesters of practice for this one,” he joked.

He admits these workouts have been very intense, but he’s enjoying working toward not only the exciting goal of graduating, but also preparing for a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“This spring I’ll be working toward such a high goal; nothing like this will ever happen again, so I’ve just been enjoying the process,” he noted.

Tasker says he admires the way a receiver like former New England Patriot Wes Welker has made a name for himself in the NFL and is attempting to model his own game around the same style. Also, he’s been in touch with another slot receiver, the Seattle Seahawks’ Bryan Walters, who’s a Cornell graduate trying to pave his way in the NFL.

“Those are the type of plays I’ll be asked to replicate at the next level,” Tasker noted.

Steve Tasker influence

While Luke will attempt to follow in the footsteps of his father as a wide receiver, he realizes he’ll need to possess many of the same intangibles that made Steve so valuable to a team.

Luke is two inches taller than his 5-foot-9 father, who was drafted in 1985 in the ninth round, and after two years in Houston spent the next 11 in Buffalo. Now a color analyst for CBS Sports coverage of the NFL and local pitchman, Steve Tasker may be one of the best special-teams coverage men in league history.

“I know from being around it as a kid that the reason he was successful is that he did things others couldn’t do,” Luke said. “I’ve asked those who have played with him and they say he was the quickest guy and people couldn’t cover him and couldn’t get their hands on him. He was outmatched at times with size, but he made himself the guy you couldn’t cut. He made himself valuable in everything he did.”

Luke said there is a bit of a misconception that exists about he and his father. Luke noted that many believe his father’s been coaching him his entire life, when in fact Steve never has, instead taking on the role of a mentor and supporter.

“He has a vast knowledge of the game and he mostly just supports me in my decisions and my thinking,” noted Luke, who for being the son of a well-known former NFL player is as humble of a young man you’ll find.

St. Francis assistant athletics director Nick Suchyna said the manner in which Luke handles himself on and off the field would make any parent proud.

“Luke has a had a lot of support throughout his years and no matter how many friends or family come to watch him play, he would always take the time to talk with everyone and thank them for coming to the game,” said Nick Suchyna, who, along with his brother, Nate, try to stay in contact with Luke. “It shows his character and appreciation for everyone that has helped him get to where he is now.”
Luke Tasker is pictured here as a senior with St. Francis in the Monsignor Martin title game. (Photo by Ron Larson)

St. Francis impact

The words of Luke’s former coach at St. Francis now seem so telling and prophetic. Tasker was such a well-rounded and involved student at St. Francis that once he was focused almost exclusively on football — a necessity to playing at that high of a level, Smith believed that he would raise his game even further. “I think you’ll really see him grow,” Smith said at the time.

Smith had a good perspective on Tasker after watching him for four years at the varsity level and believed he had a strong base because the hallmark of St. Francis has been to prepare its student-athletes for what comes next. Tasker visited Smith and some of his former coaches at St. Francis as he spent about four hours at the campus on Monday, his first day of spring break, which he’s spending at home in East Aurora.

It was fitting to go back to pay homage to a school Tasker says changed his life. Luke, who was named First Team All-State as a senior defensive back, along with being an elusive receiver and returner, is part of a Tasker legacy as a Red Raider.

His oldest brother, Deke, played there first and then after Luke, came Tap who graduated last year. Tap is following in Deke’s footsteps playing for Case Western University. The last of the four brothers, Jake, is a freshman at St. Francis right now and is sure to be heard from before his football career ends. All four chose to attend the school as their father and mother, Sarah, settled in the East Aurora area.

“I remember when my brother was a freshman and I was in sixth grade and I knew I would go there,” Luke said. “I took my four years there very seriously and thought it was the absolute best thing for me.”

Tasker’s high school career also culminated with a pair of First Team All-Western New York nods, being selected as team captain as a junior and senior and earning the Ron Pitts outstanding defensive back award both seasons. He credits St. Francis as being an essential piece of his growth as both a student and football player.

With so much news being made in the offseason by St. Francis graduates in NFL front offices, on the pro and college sidelines and on the field, Tasker’s success is yet another feather in the cap for the school. But it’s Tasker’s own actions and work ethic that have provided him with yet another high-level opportunity.

“It was perfect for grooming me from a teenager into a 19-year-old man and I really believe I wouldn’t have gotten into Cornell without St. Francis,” Luke said. “It’s the place I needed to be to grow and mature, and I think I made the most of it.”

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