It didn’t take long for De’Montre Tuggle to ascend the running back depth chart for Ohio last season.
As a junior taking his first Division I snaps, Tuggle scored two touchdowns in the Bobcats’ first game of the season against Rhode Island. He left nonconference play with three touchdowns with a mere 27 carries.
Even though he had two quality backs in Julian Ross and O’Shaan Allison, offensive coordinator Tim Albin couldn’t keep Tuggle on his bench. Tuggle continued to truck his way through defenses and into Albin’s running back rotation, and by the end of the season, he led all Ohio running backs with 11 touchdowns and averaged 6.4 yards per carry.
“I didn’t imagine it would get to that magnitude,” Tuggle said with a smile after the second day of spring camp, which was suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic. “I was just trying to find my place in the offense and produce as much as I can. It was a blessing, but it just raised my expectations for what I want this year.”
Running back is arguably Ohio’s most loaded position. Tuggle, Ross and Allison are three backs capable of carrying a full starter’s workload, but Albin prefers to split the carries of each game with his top running backs, and none of them normally receive more than 15 carries per game despite the Bobcats’ run-heavy offense.
Last year, Tuggle, who was a JUCO transfer from Kilgore College, had to prove he could be a part of the top rotation. That path started at spring camp, when Tuggle was mostly quiet on practice days and focused on completing reps.
He was nervous, too. What if he rarely played? What if he was beaten out by another running back?
Those are no longer questions Tuggle needs to ask himself in his second year with the program. He’s established himself as one of Ohio’s most reliable offensive players.
“Last year, there was a lot of stuff I didn’t know,” he said. “Now, I’m a lot more comfortable with the plays. They’re like second nature now. I’m helping the young guys and bringing them along. It’s a big difference for me.”
Tuggle doesn’t want to feel too comfortable, though. He’s still a part of a thick running back rotation that can change at any moment. If Tuggle doesn’t flash similar gaudy numbers next year, Ja’Vahri Portis or Jake Neatherton — who both have quick and physical running abilities — could take his spot.
The expectations for Tuggle are higher than ever, and he knows it.
“I feel like I have a lot to prove,” he said. “There’s definitely more eyes on me after basically coming in (last year) as a nobody. Now, people know who I am. I have something to prove not just to outside people, but to me.”
Tuggle will have to do it without the help of Nathan Rourke at quarterback. Rourke kept defenses on their heels with a stellar dual-threat ability that also opened space for running backs.
That philosophy won’t change even though Rourke has graduated from the program. His brother, Kurtis, will likely replace him and showcase similar abilities.
A new quarterback is an adjustment for the whole offense, including the running backs. So far, Tuggle thinks the transition has been smooth.
“Kurtis, that’s my guy,” Tuggle said. “He was one of the first people I talked to in my first semester here. We’re already comfortable.”
That’s how Tuggle feels everywhere he looks. Besides a new quarterback, there’s not much change from what Tuggle inherited a season ago.
He’s already proved that he can do a lot with Ohio. With one year left, Tuggle wants to prove he can do even more.
“I’ve been talking with coach, and I’m pretty sure my carries should increase,” Tuggle said. “I’m just more hungry to get this championship for this team.”