- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- Justin Tuck seemed a little nervous and uneasy, and it had nothing to do with the future of the NFL and the current labor strife.
Standing in front of 200 people at the sleek Delicatessen restaurant in SoHo on Tuesday night, Tuck talked about something more dear to him and his wife than football.
"For me, this is more rewarding than sacking Tom Brady," Tuck said.
While owners and players representatives bicker over how to divide up $9 billion in revenue, Tuck is using the lockout time to focus even more on how to raise money for Tuck's R.U.S.H. For Literacy charity campaign to help provide children in New York City and central Alabama with books and reading materials.
Next week, the New York Giants defensive end will travel to Alabama with his wife, Lauran, to visit schools and talk to children for the first time in the offseason.
"Normally at this time, I am tired from working out," Tuck told ESPNNewYork.com after speaking to a crowd of board members, sponsors and potential donors that included boxer Bernard Hopkins and teammate Chris Canty. "This will be my first time having an opportunity to [visit schools in Alabama]. Now it will be the Tucks doing it rather than just Lauran Tuck. That's a good feeling, being able to talk to the kids face to face more than I have been able to in the past. Taking something negative -- the lockout -- and making a positive out of it, that's what we are doing."
Tuck might have a few months to visit schools. Like teammate Brandon Jacobs, Tuck believes the labor impasse could go to the brink of training camp. But both believe that is when it will be resolved.
"Come July, come August, there will be a lot of scratching of heads and biting of teeth if we don't have a deal done," Tuck said. "Hopefully cooler heads prevail and I will find myself chasing some quarterbacks in September."
And even if the labor fight knocks out all offseason workouts and minicamp, Tuck says, the Giants can withstand it due to the veteran players and continuity on the coaching staff.
While some key Giants are on the mend, Tuck didn't require any offseason surgery. He's been doing some light workouts with his trainer in New Jersey, and the team's defensive captain plans on reaching out to teammates this week about staying in shape and potentially working out together if necessary.
"[Just] making sure we do our stuff individually so we can get into the season with a head start because we do have the veteran leadership, a coaching staff that we are very familiar with and we do have a proven quarterback," Tuck said. "Any team that can say that goes to the forefront as far as being able to get an early lead. Those teams that have a new coaching staff, maybe a rookie quarterback coming in, they are going to start behind the eight ball. We feel confident that when the CBA is settled, we can kind of hit the ground running."
It would be in the Giants' best interest to bring back as many of their potential free agents as possible to ensure familiarity. One potential free agent or restricted free agent, depending on a collective bargaining agreement, is Mathias Kiwanuka.
The defensive end's contract is up, and the Giants would like to re-sign Kiwanuka, who missed all but three games due to a herniated disk in his neck last season but has been medically cleared to play this season.
"[Kiwanuka] says he is healthy, been healthy," said Tuck, who spoke with Kiwanuka recently. "This whole lockout puts [a question mark] on where he is going to stand as far as contract-wise. He looks good and has been working out. I am definitely going to talk to the powers that be, but I know they want him back. He is one of those players you want to make sure you get him back in a Giants uniform."
There are other players Tuck wouldn't mind seeing in Giants blue, such as Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who is expected to be the most-sought-after free agent. Tuck will talk to the cornerback about considering the Giants when free agency begins.
"New York City is the place to be and that draws on its own, and plus we are a team that hasn't gotten over the [hump] and a player like him would definitely help do so," Tuck said.
Tuck also is one of several Giants who want to see Plaxico Burress return after he is released from prison in June. He envisions Burress taking double-teams away from Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith and Mario Manningham while opening up the field for the running game.
"When he had the [shooting] incident, we were 11-1, beating everybody by double digits and on the run to a second Super Bowl maybe," Tuck said of the 2008 season, which the Giants finished 12-4. "And after that, we really haven't been the same football team."
Of course, it will be up to ownership, general manager Jerry Reese and coach Tom Coughlin to decide whether a Plaxico reunion will happen.
"I can't answer for them," Tuck said. "As far as winning football games, you can't knock what he is able to do. I had an opportunity to talk to Plaxico, and it seems like he is at peace, he understands his mistake and how fortunate he is to still have an opportunity to come back. I think he is going to make the best of it. And I would definitely rather have him be in a Giants uniform than me being on the other side trying to devise a plan to stop him."
Tuck might not have to worry about defensive schemes for a while, which means he can help Lauran more with their charity foundation, which has donated more than 38,000 books to more than 5,500 students in central Alabama and New York City. R.U.S.H. For Literacy has raised more than $800,000 since its creation in 2008.
"We are very fortunate, and the fact that he is a professional athlete, he has a platform to affect change," Lauran said. "We really want to use that. For us, we are not extra flashy [when it comes to spending]. For me, I rather put the dollars toward helping those less fortunate than something frivolous."
After addressing the crowd, Tuck brought up two eighth graders -- German Darnley and Avery Fields -- from The Eagle Academy for Young Men in the Bronx to speak about how R.U.S.H. has helped them in the classroom while keeping them focused on the importance of education and their future.
At that moment, the NFL's labor situation didn't mean much to Tuck.
"It really puts everything into perspective what this means to them and for me," said Tuck, who will hold his third annual celebrity billiards charity event in June to raise money for R.U.S.H. "When you notice you are touching kids' lives and hopefully creating a path for them to get in colleges or having the job of their lives, that is what we are getting to with this whole literacy thing.
"It isn't just about reading; it is about progressing," he added. "For me, it is more important for me than to be in the weight room working out. That will come in due time."