Falcons linebacker Jessie Tuggle points to the crowd in a 1995 game after coming up with a huge interception to seal a victory and keep the Falcons’ playoff hopes alive. (AJC file photo/Jonathan Newton)

Jessie Tuggle recalls how he got to Valdosta State

Jessie Tuggle went to five NFL Pro Bowls, but when the linebacker was leaving Griffin High School only two colleges offered him scholarships. Two. One was West Georgia, about 60 miles away, and the other was Valdosta State, some 198 miles from his home. Both are Division II schools.

“I was 180 pounds, short and playing outside linebacker,’’ Tuggle said. “I was the MVP on my high school team my senior year, but none of the D1 teams thought I could play at their level. They looked at my size and just turned away.’’

So Tuggle had a decision, one that ended up being pretty easy.

“West Georgia was just a short drive away,’’ he said. “I wanted to go further from home. Valdosta State was in their second year of existence, and the head coach Jim Goodman came up to visit me and said to join him in Valdosta and help me build the program. He said I could put my name in the record books.’’

Goodman was right. The school, which plays in Bazemore-Hyder Stadium in Valdosta, home of the historic high school Wildcats, would go on to win three Division II national championships (2004, 2007 and 2012).

Tuggle was there at the early stages of the program, playing from 1983-86. In his senior season he led the Blazers to their first winning season with a 9-2 record and was named an All-American. He still holds the school career record for tackles with 340.

Tuggle’s No. 88 was retired at Valdosta State, and the athletic workout facility is called the Jessie Tuggle Strength and Fitness complex. He also was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

“Everyone in the NFL has a story,’’ Tuggle said. “Mine went right through Valdosta.’’

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.