Touchdown maker

Ohio junior running back De’Montre Tuggle leads the Bobcats, and the entire Mid-American Conference, with four touchdowns in three games this season.

De’Montre Tuggle still remembers the day he fell in love with the game of football.

He was watching his older brother, Dustin Witchet, play in a seventh grade bout. He was smitten.

“Man, that looked fun,” said Tuggle, Ohio’s junior running back and native of Channelview, Texas.

“I remember going home and I begged my mom, for years, to let me play too. She finally did let me play, in the sixth grade,” he continued. “I fell in love with it, just like that. Ever since I touched the field I knew this was something I wanted to do.”

Tuggle has looked like a natural in his first three games in an Ohio uniform, and Bobcat fans have been nearly as smitten with him as Tuggle was with the game itself all those years ago. The junior college transfer has just 20 touches in 2019, but is averaging 7.9 yards per touch and has four touchdowns under his belt. Tuggle’s four touchdowns are tied for the Mid-American Conference lead.

That’s not bad for a back still learning his way through the Bobcats’ system, the MAC and an offense that had planned a couple of other backs carrying a share of the load. But a touchdown on every fifth touch? That can’t continue can it?

“I hope so,” Tuggle laughed. “But really I just want to put my team in a position to win.

“Touchdowns are cool and all, but I want to come out with a win at the end of the day.”

Ohio (1-2) is hoping to find one of those wins on Saturday when Louisiana (2-1) comes to Peden for the Bobcats’ non-conference, regular-season, finale. And Tuggle figures to be in the middle of the ‘Cats plans offensively.

One of Ohio’s top backs, sophomore Julian Ross, is expected to miss a second straight game after a shoulder injury at Pitt in week 2. Redshirt freshman O’Shaan Allison, the starter in the first three games of the season, is questionable after leaving Saturday’s loss at Marshall with an injury in the fourth quarter.

That means Tuggle, used sparingly so far, could see a big uptick in the number of plays that he’s on the field. He’s delivered a big boost in short spurts so far, but the Bobcats may need more from him against the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Tuggle has just 17 carries on the season, and he’s parlayed that into 130 yards rushing and three touchdowns. His three receptions have covered 28 yards, and included a one-handed grab that went for an 18-yard score at Marshall.

But Ohio can’t afford for him to be an auxiliary component any longer. He’s going to be expected to do more.

“It’s no pressure really,” Tuggle said. “It’s football at the end of the day. You got to have the next-man-up mentality.”

Tuggle was signed by Ohio after two seasons at Kilgore College in Texas. Tuggle piled up more than 2,600 yards rushing his final two seasons of high school at Channelview, but he was an academic casualty after signing with the University of Central Arkansas.

He worked his way to eligibility. He produced on the field (more than 1,100 yards of offense) at Kilgore. He got a shot at an FBS program.

And now Tuggle might be called on to start in a pivotal swing game for the Ohio, the heavy preseason MAC favorite. Head coach Frank Solich said the running back — who stands 5-foot-10 and 198 pounds — has “a great deal of potential.”

“He gives us that home run threat there,” Solich said. “He seems to find his way, and do things very well, and then he explodes on the final burst.

“I think that’s what can separate him from just being another back.”

No other back, this season, has turned in the rate of impact plays that Tuggle has provided the Ohio offense. Even he has been a bit surprised by how much of an affect he’s had on the Bobcats early on.

“They expect a lot more from me this week so I want to prepare myself mentally and physically to put our team in the best position to win,” he said. “But it’s been crazy.”

Tuggle is another in the growing group of first-time contributors to the Ohio offense. Tuggle, Allison, redshirt freshmen receivers Jerome Buckner and Shane Hooks, junior tight ends Ryan and Adam Luehrman, and sophomore flanker Isiah Cox have all taken turns providing an early spark.

It’s a group that seems to signal explosive days ahead for the Bobcats. But OU needs them right now.

“We’re barely scratching the surface right now,” Tuggle said. “Everybody knows we’re young. Everybody knows we have guys who didn’t play a ton last year.

“We’re learning. We’re embracing everything that coach puts in our way. We’re growing,” he continued. “The sky’s the limit for us. We have a lot of potential that we’re trying to unravel here early on.”

The same goes for Tuggle himself. He admits he got a bit of a reality check when he was playing at Kilgore the last two years. He’s been in Athens since May, but feels a comfort level he never achieved at his junior college stop.

Tuggle made strong bonds, ones that are maintained now through a text chat group, during his stint at Kilgore. But the with Bobcats, he’s at peace. He likes where he’s at, and he wants to do whatever is needed to keep Ohio on track in its quest for a MAC championship.

One day Tuggle hopes to be a physical therapist, or possible a coach in order to give back to the game he loves.

But for right now, he’s going to worry about being the best running back he can be for the Bobcats.

“We’re all capable of making plays back there. We’re all capable of doing all the things that we need to do in this offense,” he said. “It’s just my turn right now.

“I just want to try to be the best me I can be for this team.”

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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