EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated by the Editor-in-Chief.
Written by Aldean Starr, Staff Writer
With spring football practice upon us, today is a good time for a reminder of the best player to ever come through this program.
That legend is Jessie Tuggle. A long-time Atlanta Falcon out of Griffin, GA, Jessie “The Hammer” Tuggle is a member of the franchise’s Ring of Honor, the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and, most impressively, the national College Football Hall of Fame. In 2007, Tuggle became the only Blazer to reach that astronomical plateau.
Tuggle’s journey was not an easy one. Valdosta State College and West Georgia were the only two collegiate programs to make an offer to Tuggle coming out of Griffin High School. Concerns over his size gave teams pause.
VSU received a gift when Tuggle committed to the Blazers. At VSU, he became a three-time Gulf South Conference selection. In 1986, Tuggle received the award for GSC Defensive Player of the Year and was a consensus All-American. He finished his career as VSU’s all-time leading tackler. His accomplishments earned him a chance to become an Atlanta Falcon as an undrafted free agent.
In Atlanta, Tuggle completed his underdog story.
He spent his entire 14-year career with the in-state team. In those seasons he achieved the milestone of 12 consecutive 100+ tackle seasons and the opportunity to play in Super Bowl XXXIII. He is the Falcons’ all-time tackle leader with 2,065 total. In addition, he recorded six interceptions, 21 sacks and 37 pass deflections.
Tuggle produced when it mattered most. He holds the club’s record for tackles in a playoff game with 11. Tuggle previously held the record for fumbles recovered for a touchdown (five), but was later surpassed by Jason Taylor.
Tuggle’s #58 and #88 jerseys are retired by both Valdosta State and the Atlanta Falcons, respectively. He also has a VSU workout facility dedicated to him: The Jessie Tuggle Strength and Fitness Complex. Tuggle’s spouse is Dujuan Tuggle and the couple has two sons that are currently in the NFL: The Cleveland Browns’ Justin Tuggle and 2015 Atlanta Falcons’ draft choice Grady Jarrett. Tuggle got the honor of reading Jarrett’s name to the nation when the Falcons selected him last April.
Tuggle also has a daughter, VSU alumna Jessica “Jessi” Tuggle. Following in her father’s footsteps, not only in his alma mater, Jessi was also an athlete. She was a member of the women’s tennis team. Not only did Jessi emblazon the tennis court, she also ignited Blazer Pride on the football field as the 2014-2014 homecoming queen.
VSU appreciates Tuggle for his impact on the football program and the area. He is the model of what every Blazer athlete should aim to emulate.