ATHENS, Ohio -- When running back De'Montre Tuggle arrived on the Ohio campus last fall as a junior college transfer from Kilgore College, he was a quiet, unassuming newcomer trying to acclimate himself to his new team and surroundings.
"I think about when I came for fall camp, I was just real quiet," said the Channelview, Texas native following Ohio's second spring practice inside Walter Fieldhouse yesterday morning. "I tried to lay back and observe a lot. There was a lot of stuff I didn't know. I tried to ask as many questions as I could."
Fast forward seven months and Tuggle has established himself as a key component to the Bobcats' running attack and is working hard to become a leader as he prepares for the 2020 season.
"Looking at now, I'm a lot more comfortable with the plays. They're like second nature," said Tuggle, a rising senior. "I'm helping out younger guys, just trying to bring them along."
It didn't seem like it took Tuggle very long to get comfortable last season. With 40 seconds remaining in the third quarter of Ohio's season-opening game against Rhode Island, Tuggle scored his first touchdown as a Bobcat from six yards out. Just 4:28 of game time later, he ripped off a 55-yard touchdown to help Ohio put the finishing touches on a 41-20 victory.
And the touchdowns didn't stop there. Tuggle finished the season ranked second on the team in rushing touchdowns with 11 and added a receiving score to his final count to rank second on the squad with 12 total. He scored at least two rushing touchdowns in a game four times in 2019. A "Tuggle Tuddy" became a frequent occurrence and caused Pro Football Focus to take notice, naming Tuggle one of the top 25 returning running backs in college football for the 2020 season.
"It's a blessing. I love it," said Tuggle. "It's amazing to be able to go out there and put up points for my team. I tell my teammates all the time, I just try to control what I can control and do my best when I'm in there. I didn't imagine it would go to this magnitude. I was just trying to find my place on the offense and just try to produce as much as I could. To do what I did, it's a blessing, but at the same, it just raised my expectations for what I want this year. I definitely feel like I have a lot to prove. There's definitely more eyes on me. Coming in, basically a nobody, and now people know who I am. I definitely feel like I have something to prove because I have more eyes on me. Not only to outside people but to myself."
For Tuggle, his junior season and first as a Bobcat left a lot to like. But, like any good competitor, he still feels there are greater things to achieve for an encore campaign.
"I liked the explosive plays, the couple of explosive plays that I had. The touchdowns, of course. It was nice to be in double digits," said Tuggle. "The yards per carry (6.4) was decent, but that's also something I want to improve on. I want to improve on my yards (644). I'm pretty sure my carries should increase, and with that, I want the yards to increase. I'm trying to go for a thousand."
Tuggle said he enjoys studying "shifty backs" and loves to watch pros such as New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders and Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott as well as fellow college backs such as Clemson's Travis Etienne and Ohio State's JK Dobbins.
Tuggle also has the benefit of improving simply by competing with his peers in practice every. Ohio's running backs room also returns Julian Ross, O'Shaan Allison, Ja'Vahri Portis, Jake Neatherton, Jonathan Barna and Walter Wilbon III heading into 2020.
The battle for carries, yards and touchdowns could be something that could understandably cause some tension among the Ohio backs, but the group visibly enjoys each other's company and has developed solid chemistry through competition.
"We love each other," said Tuggle of the running backs. "We're always out here joking and laughing. We just love being around each other, even outside of the field. The relationship is great, the chemistry is great, but at the same time, we're all competing and trying to make each other better."
Gone is the quiet, introverted Tuggle of a year ago. On the practice field this spring, he's loose and having fun with his teammates. He's found a home in Athens and is at ease. It hasn't extinguished his drive to get better or his will to win, though.
"I'm a lot more comfortable, but a lot more hungry," said Tuggle. "The Miami game (a 24-21 home loss to the rival RedHawks in November that ended Ohio's hopes of winning a Mid-American Conference title), we needed that to get to the MAC Championship. I've still got a bad taste in my mouth from that. I'm a lot more comfortable, but a lot more ready to get a bigger role. I'm just more hungry to get this championship for this team."
After completing their first two spring practices this week, the Bobcats will have next week off along with the rest of the Ohio student body for spring break. Spring ball resumes on March 15 inside Walter Fieldhouse.