Field goals and curtain calls

WHETHER HE'S splitting the uprights or singing arias, Justin Tucker can go deep. The Ravens placekicker and bass-baritone was a standout athlete growing up in Austin, Texas. He also loved to sing and perform. But during his freshman year at Westlake High, Tucker was told he'd have to choose between sports and music. "I was fully prepared to do both. I thought it was going to be awesome," says Tucker. "But I was told it just wasn't feasible." It wasn't a hypercompetitive football coach, however, who pressured him to fully commit to the gridiron. It was the music director. "We had a pretty competitive band," he says.

Football has worked out just fine. In two seasons with the Ravens, Tucker, 24, has connected on 91.9 percent of his field goal attempts. But he didn't completely abandon his inner band geek. Tucker majored in recording technology at Texas and studied under professor Nikita Storojev, a renowned opera singer. "He's a former pro hockey player, so it was more like a player-coach relationship," Tucker says. "He pushed me beyond my comfort zone. You can't swing your backpack around that school without hitting a virtuoso musician, so no one really cared too much about the fact that I could kick a football straight."

Tucker learned to sing in seven different languages -- English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Latin and Russian -- which came in handy when, as an NFL rookie, he sang for Ravens veterans in camp. Jaws dropped when he responded with a booming aria.

"It takes a level of technicality to kick a football, and the same is true of music," says Tucker, who has been invited to perform with the Baltimore Symphony. "There is a composure that's required and a confidence that comes with preparation." As his 61-yard game winner to beat the Lions in December on "Monday Night Football" showed, he can nail an operatic ending.

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