Tucker and Jerry Louie-McGee learned many things as brothers growing up on the Coeur d’Alene reservation in north Idaho. One of the most important things they learned was how to dream big.
Playing college football has been the goal since they played Coeur d’Alene Warrior flag football 10 years ago. Tucker, an 18-year-old senior, saw his dream come true this year when he was offered a scholarship to play at Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho. The 6-foot-1, 168-pound quarterback was the 5A Inland Empire League’s co-most valuable player. He passed for 1,320 yards and 13 touchdowns, and rushed for eight more.
Jerry, a 17-year-old junior slot receiver/tailback, caught eight TD passes, ran for seven more, and returned a punt for a score this season. He still has another year of high school ball, but it’s only a matter of time before the second-team all-state selection attracts his own college scholarship offers.
Behind all this is a story of one family’s commitment to each other.
The Louie-McGees were living in the reservation town of Worley, Idaho (population 360), where the local high school has 126 students and an 8-man football program. Wade McGee, Cherokee, and his wife Debbie, Coeur d’Alene, knew they had a choice to make regarding the future of their sons.
“I’ve never forced my kids to live my dreams. I wanted them to have their own dreams,” said Wade, who holds seven football records at Haskell Indian Nations University. “I’m not just some proud dad. I’m a trainer and I could see, even in elementary school, they had huge potential. So I went to the sweathouse and prayed. ‘What do I need to do for my boys?’ ”
The answer that came to him was to leave the reservation.
In 2010, when Tucker was a sophomore and Jerry was a freshman, they bought a house in Coeur d’Alene (population 45,579), with its 93.8 percent white population, according to the 2012 U.S. Census Bureau figures. The boys enrolled at Lake City High School (1,500) and joined a football program with some 80 players.
It wasn’t just a different level of football—everything was different. There were more kids walking down the school halls than the entire population of Worley. They played in stadiums in front of 5,000 fans. The dream of playing in college now hinged on making it in the classroom and the brothers were asked to do far more than anything they had ever experienced.
“I was up for it because it was the only way I was going to get recruited to go play football in college,” Tucker told ICTMN, sitting in the kitchen of their home in Coeur d’Alene. “I was uncomfortable at first going from a school where there’s barely 100 kids to something the size of Lake City. I didn’t know anybody except my brother and a couple of guys from the football team I met during the summer. On the rez everybody knew me. So this was the first time I had to make a name for myself.”
A painting of Debbie hung on the living room wall, featuring two images—one in her dance regalia and another in a uniform she wore during a four-year stint in the U.S. Marines Corp. It was a good representation of the puzzle Tucker and Jerry were trying to piece together.
The one thing the boys did not do was “sell out” their heritage to fit in. Both wear their hair long and braided in the Coeur d’Alene style. They kept their medicine close, wearing their medicine bags under their uniforms.
And they continued to smudge and wash with rosebush water on the day of their games to cleanse themselves.
“My biggest concern was how they would transition socially,” said Debbie, who grew up on the Confederated Tribes of The Colville reservation in Inchelium, Washington. “When we got here, they said they were the first Indian kids on the football team—ever.”
But, it didn’t take long for Tucker and Jerry to make a name for themselves. They quickly became stars of Idaho high school football and television stations and newspapers were all clamoring for interviews.
Photo courtsey Wade McGee
Coeur d'Alene tribal member Tucker Louie-McGee
“I remember the first time a reporter grabbed me after a game and asked me some questions. I didn’t know what to say,” Jerry said. “I’m more of a team person and better talking about the team than I am about myself.”
In 2013, they had one more chance to showcase their talent and they did not disappoint. During a 70-30 blowout over Sandpoint, Idaho, Jerry caught three first-half touchdown passes from Tucker and ran for another.
“At the Sandpoint game, the stands were shouting ‘Louie-McGee, Louie-McGee.’ That was pretty cool,” Jerry said.
The 36-30 come-from-behind victory over Post Falls, Idaho was another one for the highlight reel. Tucker had a 70-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to spark the comeback. Jerry’s spectacular 13-yard touchdown run with 58.2 seconds remaining was the game-winner.
“They’ve become leaders in our building, showing others how things should be done,” Lake City football coach Van Troxel said.