MANHATTAN — Justin Tuggle and Jarell Childs came to Kansas State expecting to score plenty of touchdowns, but they never envisioned their first end-zone dance coming the way it did.
Tuggle was recruited as a dual-threat quarterback. Childs started out as a power running back. In order for them to hook up for a touchdown, they figured it would take a perfectly-thrown pass and catch or a handoff followed by an impressive run.
Turns out, all they needed was a fumble.
That’s what happened two weeks ago during a victory over Oklahoma. Tuggle, now a hybrid linebacker who can also play defensive end, came around the outside on a blitz in the second quarter and hit Sooner quarterback Landry Jones from behind, forcing the ball free. Childs, now a linebacker who plays in the nickel formation, picked it up and leaped across the goal line for an easy touchdown.
Tuggle and Childs met in the end zone and wildly celebrated what both now describe as the highlight play of their careers.
“I played on offense for two years and never got into the end zone,” Childs said. “… Him making the fumble and me scooping it up – that’s one play that me and him will never forget.”
“We just tried to go out there and make some plays,” Tuggle added. “Luckily, I came off the edge and got the sack and the ball popped out and Jarell got it. That was real big.”
Neither player thought he would end up playing defense when they signed with the Wildcats, but Tuggle and Childs are happy where they are. They are both seniors, and are proud to be regular contributors for No. 7 K-State. Tuggle has eight tackles and two sacks, and Childs has come up with 17 tackles.
They are roommates and have become close friends, and not just because they play the same position. Their journeys from offense to defense are nearly identical.
Tuggle signed with K-State out of Blinn (Texas) — the same junior college that produced Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and former Wildcat great Michael Bishop — expecting to push Collin Klein for the starting quarterback spot last year. But Tuggle struggled to learn the offense and Klein won the job before preseason practices. Then Klein had a sensational junior year and is now a Heisman contender.
Chances were slim Tuggle would see more than back-up duty at quarterback during his final year of college football, and he knew it. So he started looking for a new position. He has always been one of the most athletic players on the team, and at 6-foot-3, 233 pounds he has a big enough body to make tackles. It also doesn’t hurt that his father, Jessie, a former linebacker who is in the College Football Hall of Fame, is always available for advice.
So before K-State began practicing for last season’s Cotton Bowl, Tuggle asked coach Bill Snyder if he could switch to defense. Snyder immediately gave his blessing.
“You can tell that playing linebacker is in his blood,” Childs said. “He picked up everything real quick.”
So much so, that Tuggle doesn’t miss playing quarterback.
“It feels good to be out there making some plays,” Tuggle said. “We’re a fast defense, we play fast and we can run around pretty well. Hopefully we can keep that up.”
Childs also faced an uphill climb on offense. A Kansas City (Mo.) Oak Park product, he saw the field as a running back early on, but received few carries. He played in 11 games as a freshman, rushing for 81 yards as the team’s No. 3 ballcarrier.
If he stuck with it, he thought he could move up the depth chart. But it would be a slow rise with current NFL players Daniel Thomas and William Powell in front of him. So when Snyder pulled him aside one afternoon and told him he could get more playing on defense, that’s all the convincing he needed.
“They asked me if I wanted to switch, and I was like, ‘Yeah,’ ” Childs said. “We were low at linebacker and they saw my size, so coaches asked if I wanted to try out at linebacker. The first week they told me I looked good there. I liked it, so I stayed.”
Like Tuggle, Childs picked up on the switch quickly. He started in seven games as a sophomore and made 53 tackles, including a 15-tackle effort against Kansas. He appeared on his way to becoming a three-year starter for the Wildcats’ defense, but then he ran into injury trouble.
He tore his ACL before his junior year, and was relegated to mostly special teams play while he worked to return to full strength.
Now that he is healthy again, he is splitting time at linebacker with Tuggle and Tre Walker alongside Arthur Brown. He patrols the middle whenever K-State adds a defensive back to the secondary, and Tuggle mostly tries to stop the run and pressure opposing quarterbacks.
“I taught him some things,” Childs said of Tuggle. “When I switched over I had people like Alex Hrebec helping me with the switch, so I was trying to help him and show him a few techniques that older people taught me.”
Snyder has asked countless players to change positions through the years, and never doubted that Tuggle and Childs could shift from offense to defense and make an impact.
Not only are they both big and athletic, they have deep football knowledge.
“They both have some instinct for the game itself, regardless of what side of the ball they happen to play on,” Snyder said. “They run well, they change directions well, they are intelligent young guys and they pick up the system rather quickly. For somebody who has those characteristics it isn’t a drastic change. It might seem like it going from quarterback or running back to the linebacker position. Still, I think if you have football smarts you understand both sides of the ball.”
Road construction continues — The Kansas Department of Transportation is advising fans to expect road delays as they travel to Manhattan for the Sunflower Showdown on Saturday. Traffic on I-70 and U.S. 24 will be reduced to one lane in several areas surrounding Topeka and Manhattan.