By Cybele Zhang
Most people probably know Tucker Fisk for what he does on the gridiron. Playing tight end and defensive line this season, the fifth-year is the only Stanford player to appear on both offense and defense — and he’s taken the field with special teams, too.
But outside of football, Fisk is just as unique. From his passion for the ocean to the energy (and Birkenstocks) that he brings to team meetings, Fisk has made an impact on the football program.
Despite being listed on the depth chart for Big Game twice on defense in addition to his spot at tight end, Fisk played solely on offense for the last four years. He did play on both sides of the ball in high school, but only made the collegiate switch to defense during 2021 spring ball.
Fisk first brought up the idea of playing both ways to an assistant coach during his senior year. Originally the plan was to play at D-line for a few days. But the position stuck.
“When I first came to Stanford there were rumors that I heard that people were thinking of moving me to D-line,” Fisk said, “so it wasn’t a new idea.”
Fast forward seven months, and Fisk has become a core piece of coach Lance Anderson’s defense.
Playing both ways, however, also means double the preparation behind the scenes.
“Outside of the normal meeting times, I have to be on my stuff for two different game plans, and things change week-to-week on both sides of the ball,” Fisk said. “So just learning our adjustments and what the other team does on both sides of the ball is maybe an added time commitment, but it’s been a blast. It’s been super, super fun to be out there on both sides of the ball and to have a chance to affect the game in multiple ways.”
Fisk spends the majority of his time with the D-line because he has had less experience at the position.
“I’ll practice a couple days on offense, but for the most part I’m just given the game plan, and I talk to Coach [Morgan] Turner for a few minutes everyday,” Fisk said in a September press conference. “I think the experience on offense makes it a little easier to knock out the offense game plan each week.”
Now with two sacks, a pass break up and 13 total tackles thus far this season on defense, in addition to his first career touchdown last year, Fisk has established himself as perhaps one of the most versatile (and interesting) players on the Cardinal roster.
Football, family and fishing
Tucker isn’t the only Fisk to play five years of football for the Cardinal.
In the early 1990’s, Tucker’s father, Jason Fisk ‘95, was an impactful defensive lineman during his five years as an undergrad, starting an impressive 42 games — 38 of which were consecutive. Contemporary Daily articles recall the elder Fisk’s “stoic face and consistent level of play” that made him a “defensive mainstay” for the program.
Following his time with the Cardinal, Jason played professionally in the NFL for 12 seasons, spending the most time with the Minnesota Vikings (1995–1998), who drafted him in the seventh round. While with the Vikings, Tucker was born in Minnesota, but the Fisk family ultimately moved to Davis, Calif. where Tucker went to high school.
“Growing up, I played defensive line, so our dinner conversations and after dinner conversations were often talking about how to take on blocks and how to leverage guys and where to put your hands,” Tucker said about his father with a laugh. “I’ve basically been his disciple since I was young.”
With Tucker playing defensive end once again, the Fisk family has come full circle at Stanford Stadium. Thirty years later, Jason watches from the stands as his son plays his position as his alma mater.
“Honestly, I think it stresses him out because now he knows when I’m messing up,” Tucker said of playing defensive end. “But I’m sure part of him enjoys seeing me out there and seeing me do the same things that he did when he was younger.”
Beyond football, it’s clear that Jason has made an impact on Tucker, too.
In our conversations, Tucker enthusiastically recalled childhood stories about driving hours to “wherever the fish were biting” — sometimes as far north as Bodega Bay in Sonoma County, sometimes down to Half Moon Bay or anywhere in between.
“We would go out, and we’d fish for salmon and stuff in the area,” Fisk said. “We’d see whales and ocean sunfish and seals and just all these cool, cool creatures. I think that’s just imprinted on me, and I became very interested in the ocean in general.”
Now in his last quarter as Stanford, Tucker credits these fond memories of fishing together for the selection of his major, earth systems, in which he focuses on oceans and atmosphere.
“I figured why not make it my major because then, if I become a specialist in the ocean, most of the jobs that I’ll get are probably going to be by the ocean,” Tucker said with a smile. “So it was more just like a failsafe way to make sure I live by the ocean my entire life.”
For decades Stanford has touted their student-athlete ideal — someone that thrives on the field and in the classroom. Tucker fits the bill.
His plans post football? A Ph.D. to do ocean science research.
Chatting with him about ocean life, Tucker’s excitement is palpable. We discussed topics ranging from eco-friendly hair products to his favorite animal — the water bear, a microscopic but complex extremophile that can survive the most severe environments.
Filling the silence
Between football and classes, Tucker has also somehow managed to find free time for his own projects. Much like how he initiated playing on defense for the Cardinal, he has dived head first into his music.
“Honestly, I just got inspired one day to learn ‘Hey There, Delilah’ on the guitar when I was in high school,” he said, “so I did. I probably sat down for like three days and learned it.”
Those impulses also prompted him to teach himself the piano and ukulele and, most recently, have led him to songwriting.
“I rarely finish songs, but I write songs — or at least I’ll write guitar parts and melodies over the top,” he said, laughing. “I don’t know how to record very effectively, so it’s not really worth finishing the songs most of the time. I’ll have a verse for a while, and I’m like, ‘Oh, this is perfect.’ And then I play it for too long without finishing the song, and it starts sounding weird. The words are tough.”
While his audience now is limited (just his room), Tucker said that perhaps we’ll see him at a farmer’s market or The Arbor in the future.
Aside from his 6’4″, 285-pound build, you might spot Tucker around campus because of his hair, which has grown steadily longer since his arrival on campus in 2017. (Multiple players have told me his hair is the best on the team, and yes, he did share his hair routine — the secret is conditioner). Or you might find Tucker in line for his daily pre-meeting coffee in his Birkenstocks.
“They’re actually one of the few footwears you can wear in any environment — they’re good for ocean, they’re good for sand, they are good for hiking because they’re comfy,” Tucker said of his favorite shoe brand. “They hold your feet.”
“I’ve done walkthroughs in Birks, but I tend to run through my walkthroughs because I get too excited,” he added. “They hold up pretty well. You can play in them. You don’t need the cleats. It’s a myth that you need the cleats.”
Despite his hesitation, you’ll find Tucker on the field this weekend for Big Game, cleats and all.
Looking back on the last five years, two games stick out for Tucker as highlights: Oregon 2018 and 2021. While neither were statistical high points for him personally, the team wins still stick with him.
“The 2018 one was crazy because it went from being so loud that you couldn’t even scream at the top of your lungs and have the person next to you hear you to dead silence as soon as we won,” he said. “It was the most drastic change in sound I’ve ever been a part of. ”
With two home games left in his career at Stanford, Tucker has just eight more days to add to his Stanford football story and memories on The Farm.
While what’s next for him at the end of this road is still uncertain, Tucker has always been up for the challenge. Whether it is learning a new playbook, patience while waiting for the fish to bite or the courage to perform his music, 88 will be ready to take the field.