ATLANTA--When the Georgia State Panthers play or practice in the Georgia Dome, they can see the name and number of Jessie Tuggle hanging in the rafters. Sunday, the Panthers got to meet the former NFL great in person.
Delivering a message about taking advantage of opportunities, the long-time Atlanta Falcon spoke to the Panthers before Sunday's practice. Tuggle joined the Falcons as an undrafted free agent out of Valdosta State and the 17th linebacker in camp. Not only did he make the team, but he played 14 seasons and made five Pro Bowls.
"I'm no different than you guys," said the College Football Hall of Famer, State of Georgia Sports Hall of Famer and Atlanta Sports Hall of Famer. "When you get an opportunity, take it and run with it. Don't be afraid to fail, don't be afraid to succeed."
Tuggle's success story is particularly relevant for the Panthers because he went to Valdosta State when the program was in its second season of existence, just as Georgia State enters its second season. Tuggle talked about how much pride he and his teammates take in the national titles won recently by Valdosta State because of their role in laying the foundation and building the program.
After the team watched a highlight video showcasing big hits by Tuggle, he told the Panthers, "You don't have to be the biggest guy or come from a big school to hit; hitting comes from right here," he said, pointing to his chest.
"You have to pay a price for anything, and it starts right here in camp," he continued. "You've got buddies who are hanging out today, enjoying a Sunday afternoon. In a few weeks, they are going to wish they were you when you run onto the field at the Georgia Dome. But they don't have that right because they didn't pay the price."
Tuggle noted that although in his 14 seasons with the Falcons, the team lost more games than it won, "no one could control my effort but me." He recounted stories of the Falcons' 1998 Super Bowl season and winning games no one expected them to win.
Tuggle spoke of his extra work in the weight rooms that helped him lead the NFL in total tackles during the decade of the 1990s. His strength and determination saw him miss only one game during that decade.
Tuggle is one of many speakers from a variety of fields who impart leadership lessons to the GSU program. Yesterday, the team heard from Lieutenant Colonel Greg Gadson, a former college football player at Army, where he played against Bill Curry's Alabama team in the Sun Bowl. After losing both his legs in combat, Lt. Col. Gadson became an inspirational figure for the New York Giants in their run to the Super Bowl in 2008. On Friday, it was Steve Cesari, an entrepreneur known for the "Juiceman Juicer," who played college football in the Colonial Athletic Association at Northeastern. Tomorrow, former Atlanta mayor and Civil Rights leader Andrew Young will address the Panthers.
Preseason drills continue as the Panthers will practice in full pads for the first time Monday at 8:15 a.m. The first two-a-day is Tuesday.