KANSAS CITY, Mo — Justin Tuggle remembers walking the sidelines of the Georgia Dome as a toddler, watching his dad, former Atlanta Falcons star linebacker Jessie Tuggle, perform at an optimum level in the National Football League.
“I was always around football, around the Falcons, watching my dad go out and practice every day and play each and every Sunday,” said Justin Tuggle — a former Kansas State quarterback and linebacker — and now undrafted rookie linebacker for the Houston Texans. “It was a great experience for me.
“From an early age, this is what I wanted to do. I saw the passion that my dad put into it and it grew on me. That’s the one thing I marvel at, my dad. The numbers he put up were pretty spectacular.”
Jessie Tuggle was an undrafted free agent out of Valdosta (Ga.) State who spent his entire 14-year NFL career with the Falcons (1987-2000), establishing himself as one of the top tacklers in league history. He had 1,640 career stops, including the most tackles for a decade in NFL history — 1,293, from 1990 to 1999 — and also set a league record by returning five of his 10 fumble recoveries for touchdowns.
Yet, perhaps his most telling statistic is the fact that he had a three-year stretch, from 1990 to 1992, where he totaled an amazing 601 tackles.
As for the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Justin Tuggle, he has taken an unusual route to the NFL. Coming out of high school in Alpharetta, Ga., he signed to play at Boston College as a quarterback, starting three games as a redshirt-freshman in 2009 and throwing for 229 yards and four touchdowns.
“I don’t think anyone could have predicted the route that I took to get here,” said Tuggle, who is currently listed as No. 2 on the depth chart at outside linebacker for the Texans. “It’s been a long journey and a lot of things changed from how I originally imagined them to be, but I’m happy with the way things turned out and I feel blessed to be in a good spot right now.
“I think I’m adapting well to everything. It’s been a process since I got here. I’ve been trying to get acclimated and work my way to be the best player that I can be to get adjusted to the NFL.”
Tuggle landed at K-State via Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, where he played in 2010 after transferring from Boston College. Blinn is the same school that produced quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner-up Michael Bishop, who put K-State on the national football map in 1997-1998, leading the Wildcats to unprecedented levels and their first No. 1 ranking in school history.
Tuggle, who replaced 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton (Auburn) at Blinn, was rated as the top dual-threat quarterback among JUCO players in 2010. When 2012 Heisman finalist Collin Klein emerged as K-State’s starting quarterback, Tuggle was moved to linebacker prior to the Wildcats’ Cotton Bowl game with Arkansas in January 2012.
Last fall, as K-State captured the Big 12 championship, Tuggle had 19 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, one pass broken up and one forced fumble in his first full season at linebacker.
Tuggle is one of three K-State players that are NFL rookies this season. Second-round draft pick Arthur Brown plays linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, and wide receiver Chris Harper, a fourth-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks, recently signed with the Green Bay Packers after he was released by the San Francisco 49ers.
“I saw Arthur when we played in Baltimore, and I also saw Chris when we played in San Francisco a couple weeks ago,” Tuggle said. “That was good to see them, knowing they’re sticking around and doing well.
“You’re going out there each and every day, competing for your job. I came into training camp as an outside linebacker and after camp, I was moved to the inside. After a couple days, I was moved back to the outside, so I’m back in a blitz read now. I’m No. 2 at SAM linebacker.”
Tuggle played on special teams and also a few snaps at linebacker during a 17-16 loss to the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 22 at Arrowhead Stadium. For the season, he has totaled five tackles, including four unassisted, and one forced fumble during Houston’s 2-6 start.
Tuggle says he readily taps into his dad’s wealth of playing experience on a daily basis.
“I talk to my dad almost every day,” he said. “He’s been there, he’s lived the life and he did it for several years. If I have a question about a technique or a scheme, something I’m just not grasping well enough, I can always ask him. He has a lot of knowledge, so I just try to pick his brain as much as I can.
“If I have a problem with anything in life, I can go to him. He helps me out. He’s always been there for me and I really appreciate it.”
Jessie Tuggle was enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame in the 2007.