VALDOSTA, Ga. — In the day’s earliest hours, she makes her way to the tennis courts for yet another day of improvement. With the 2013 season in full swing and just a few more semesters away from graduating, Valdosta State University tennis player Jessica Tuggle is at the top of her game literally and figuratively.
The Johns Creek native for the third year will balance her hectic practice and game schedules while she focuses to continue earning superb grades in the classroom.
After two seasons under her belt at Valdosta State, she returns this season fitting into more of a leadership role as one of the veteran players on this year’s squad.
Tuggle, a last name that usually rings bells when said especially in the Valdosta area — “Jessi” as her friends and family call her — is known around town as the daughter of VSU legend and Atlanta Falcons great Jessie Tuggle.
“Growing up, I always said, ‘No, I’m not going to your alma mater. I’m not going to be known as Jessie Tuggle’s daughter.’ Then I got here and I was like, hey, this place is pretty cool. The palm trees, the weather; I just felt like I was at home,” Tuggle said.
Despite being the daughter of famed Tuggle, she insists that playing sports in her future wasn’t mandatory.
“Not necessarily to play sports, but to succeed and be the best I can,” Tuggle said. “There’s always been a lot of pressure since my dad is who he is, but you can’t let that get you.
“It just makes you want to train that much harder,” she said. “It’s kind of exciting.”
With her father in the peak of his career during his children’s tender years, Tuggle is fond of her childhood memories watching and traveling to see him play.
One of her fondest memories includes her family’s trip to Miami, Fla. to watch her dad compete in Super Bowl XXXIII (33).
Born in the same city as her father, Griffin, Ga., the Tuggle family moved to their current home at the Country Club of the South in Johns Creek when she was 2 years old.
At 8 years old, she developed another aspiration — she wanted to become a tennis player.
Her mother, Dujuan, was her inspiration.
“My mom had just starting playing and I just wanted to do everything she did,” Tuggle said. “My brother was playing too,” she said. “Being able to go out with the whole family playing tennis, it was just a lot of fun.”
She reminisces playing “girls against the guys,” referring to big brother Justin and dad against her and her mom.
“They didn’t win a lot of matches, but that’s OK,” Tuggle said laughingly.
Idolizing two of the sport’s stars during this time, Venus and Serena Williams, Tuggle has kept tennis balls and a racket close-by ever since.
In the offseason, Tuggle makes sure to stay fit and continues to practice whenever she can with younger players in her community or with Tennis Director Michael Bouchillon.
Now she has an entire season ahead of her, and VSU head tennis coach John Hansen agrees that Tuggle is due for a break-out season.
“We’re glad she’s here,” Hansen said. “A great team player, she’s improved dramatically from last year to this year. She’s always had great strokes but she’s grown more into a player. She has really risen to her talent.”
Tuggle is not quite set on what she wants to do career-wise, but she says whatever she does, she will try her hardest.
“It’s nice to see the hard work is finally paying off but there is still a lot that I need to work on,” Tuggle said. “I need to stay focused and keep trying that much harder.”