Travis Tuck takes a seat on the steps of Edwin Flack Reserve - the home of the Berwick Football Club.
It’s a fitting setting, for the wild journey that is life has brought him back to where it all began.
Tuck grew up in Berwick, but with his dad being Hawthorn legend Michael Tuck, and his uncle the great Gary Ablett Snr., his earliest footy memories are of a far bigger stage.
A stage he would later familiarise himself with.
“I’ve got a lot of fond memories from my childhood: spending days at Waverley Park through the 90s, hanging around at the ground ‘til the lights were switched off and running around the oval kicking the footy,” says Tuck.
He also remembers “heading down to Kardinia Park, watching the games down there, hanging out with a couple of cousins.”
“It’s been a big part of my life and I’ve enjoyed that.”
Tuck explains that “when you grow up in a family that plays a lot of footy, it’s just second nature to you, you don’t know it any other way.
“I just thought that was always what I was going to do. That’s what dad did, uncles, cousins, brother. You don’t really give it a second thought.”
Travis' dad Michael lifting one of his seven premiership cups
Family had shaped Tuck’s childhood, and it would shape his draft experience: taken as a father-son selection by Hawthorn with pick 38 in the 2005 national draft.
“Obviously walking into a big footy club is a bit nerve-racking,” he says.
“I think about one, two years into your time at the club, you start to feel a bit more comfortable there, and you really wanna try and cement yourself in the team, play some games of footy and just carry your own name.
“I was always Michael’s son, you wanted to find who you are as a player, and see how good you can become.”
With that vision in mind, a few years into his time at Hawthorn, Tuck decided that he would “give this a good shake and see how far I can take it.”
Although extremely grateful for his opportunity with the Hawks, he admits that if he had his time again, he may approach the draft differently.
“I did have a guy who was helping me out, a manager if you will, who sort of mentioned that maybe Richmond put a little offer in, a bit of an extended contract type thing,” recalls Tuck.
“At that time, I just went with Hawthorn, the father-son sort of way. If I had my time again, I might just put myself in the draft.”
Tuck’s reasoning being that “you’re gonna find the club who really wants you is gonna pick you up, because they’re willing to commit that early pick on you.”
“Hawthorn at that period had a lot of picks… so there were a lot of other guys ahead of me in that sense. So, it would be good to just throw yourself in the draft, and whoever picks you up making them commit to you.”
Regardless, Tuck enjoyed his time at Hawthorn.
“In general, the boys were quite good… everyone there was very nice and made me feel very welcome,” he says
It would only be three years into Tuck’s time at the Hawks when they would taste the ultimate success: triumph in the 2008 Grand Final.
A fringe player at the time, Tuck narrowly missed the cut, but it sparked something inside of him, making him “really drive and wanna be a part of the team.”
“It would be great to be a part of a grand final winning team. I just wasn’t quite there at the time, which was unfortunate,” he says.
“One thing I did take from that, I really wanted to play round one the following year, that’s a bit of a goal I set after I saw the boys get up.”
And play round one he did, not only breaking into a premiership team but having a career-best outing against the grand finalists.
“That’s probably when I came and had the best game I’d had for the club. I had 31 touches against really quality opposition at the ‘G. That would have to go down as one of my biggest highlights.”
Tuck in action for the Hawks against Geelong
Off the field, the “professionalism” of AFL life stood out to Tuck.
“Just the meetings behind the scenes: you’ve got your team meetings, your line meetings; midfields, forwards, backs; which is on the previous week your review, and then you’ve got the next team coming up, you go through those meetings again,” he says.
“Dedication in regard to running, eating right, getting your sleep in.
“When you add it all together, it’s a really intense environment.”
Tuck would ultimately play 20 games in the brown and gold over six seasons, with a lack of “positive outlets” in terms of relief from the demanding and consuming AFL environment playing a role in the conclusion of his career.
It was a challenging experience, but one Tuck learnt from and one that he can draw on in his current line of work, which centres around helping school kids.
“That’s something I talk about now with young people. Having those positive and negative outlets, I think we need outlets.”
“What I refer to as positive outlets is golf, fishing, camping, hanging out with mates, walking the dogs, those sorts of positive outlets.
“Not having [those positive outlets] led me to some of those negative outlets, which can happen to young people and people in that environment. Which is your alcohol, gambling, at times drugs, and it becomes an outlet but it’s one of those negative ones, which can ultimately lead you down a bad path.”
In regard to where he’s currently at with his career, Tuck works with the Wellbeing team at Berwick Secondary College.
His past “indiscretions” and the support he was lucky to have through those challenging times are now the driving force for his passion, which is to support young people.
“When I was at Hawthorn with three strikes, getting my three illicit drug test positives etcetera. I think that really shaped me to want to work with young people.
“I was really lucky to have a lot of people in my life - especially my family - that supported me through some really tough times and times when I made some poor choices.
“A big part of that helped me grow a passion to want to help and work with young people who might not be lucky enough to have the family support that I was lucky enough to have.
“That, more than anything, was the driving force for me to want to get involved with youth work.
“Berwick Secondary College has given me that opportunity and I’m very grateful for that.”
For the opportunity to come about, Tuck had to “bite the bullet”, completing a Cert IV Mental Health Course at Chisholm TAFE in Berwick.
“At the end of that I did my placement at Berwick Secondary College through Kyra Dawson, and Paul Roberts who both helped me out there,” he acknowledges.
“From that point after I finished my hours I just volunteered and did a day a week [at Berwick Secondary College], and then a position popped up and I went for it, so I’m contracted for the year and loving it.
“Loving the challenge, learning a hell of a lot, but really enjoying it at the same time.”
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However, Tuck’s journey from the AFL to where he is now wasn’t a straightforward one.
Once his career had ended at Hawthorn, he spent time playing VFL footy with Werribee where he “worked quite hard at times, and at times I sort of went off the boil a little bit.”
His life was still in a transitional period.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to get back (to the AFL) because it was what I really wanted to do, or if it’s what I felt that I wanted to do to prove certain things to people.
“Those couple of years I was really trying to find myself still, and figure out where I was, what I wanted. I wasn’t quite sure; it was really up and down over those years.”
In search of a circuit-breaker, Tuck decided to move to Adelaide and play in the SANFL, which he described as “a really good thing.”
Tuck playing for West Adelaide in the SANFL
“I needed that change, I needed to get out of Melbourne and experience something else. So, I was really thankful that I did that, and made a lot of mates over there.”
He also met his partner Erin in Adelaide, and it was her who led him back home.
“She got the opportunity to come play netball with a club in the city here, Collingwood. I hadn’t been home for five years, so I thought I'd come back and play local footy at Berwick,” he says.
“I’ve always been passionate about wanting to come home, play a year with Berwick. I was lucky enough to come back and we had a premiership winning year in 2018."
Tuck celebrating Berwick's 2018 premiership
Still plying his trade for the Wickers this season, Tuck lauds the club’s recent move into the Eastern Football League as a “big step,” also expressing his admiration for Glen Gambetta and Russell Trait who “are really running the club well.”
“It’s exciting times.”
As for the season ahead, Tuck forecasts a “tough year.”
“But the boys are committing and we just wanna represent the place as best we can. I’m loving being around the footy club at the moment, where I grew up,” he says.
Despite the adversity thrown at him, Tuck’s engrained passion for footy has remained unwavering.
But the tragic passing of his brother Shane - who was suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) - served as an eye-opener to the risks the game poses to the head.
Tuck describes his position on the topic of brain disease as a “both sides of the fence understanding,” as he recognises the unconditional love for footy many possess, but has also seen the devastating effects of CTE first-hand.
“With CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, it’s an interesting one. Obviously playing footy at the moment, I’d like to think I’ve always been an inside player and like to see hard tough footy and all that, and I still support that.
“On one hand I sit where [if you get] a very mild concussion, you have to sit out for a week, look after things. A lot of blokes might think that’s a bit over the top, but I don’t really have a position on it.”
On the other hand, Tuck “had to sit through things with my family involving my brother that were very difficult to deal with in relation to his brain disease, and that really had a very detrimental impact on [both] him and us.
“Obviously he’s not here anymore, so I got to see that other side of it, which is very very hard to see and be involved with.
“I don’t know the answer, I’m not a scientist, I don’t know enough about it,” he concludes.
Amidst the great unknowns, Tuck does know that “it’s very important to look after your head, look after your mates, and look after your health as best you can going forward.”
“We want to spend a long enjoyable life with our family and that’s what it’s all about.”
His journey through life has entailed plenty of hardship, but Tuck can take comfort in returning home.
He’s living in the town he grew up in, working at the school he went to as a student, playing footy for his junior club, and everything “feels right”.
“I love being here, I hope that everyone’s enjoying me being here. I really love the place and it feels like home,” reflects Tuck, a sense of contentment washing over him.
“I play footy here, school’s next door, I live down the road. I’ve just started a new family, I’ve got a young 15-month-old boy, my partner Erin, and mum and dad up the road.
“I’m very happy with where I am at the moment and the way things are going.”