By Matt Hill
Though the book has not been closed on Carlton Tugman’s illustrious prep tennis career, the most important chapter was written on Tuesday at the Johnson County High School Media Center.
The Longhorn senior standout signed a letter of intent to play at the next level with Milligan College and will now join his brother Wade Tugman and former teammate Steven Joiner on the Buffaloes’ tennis team.
Tugman is one of the most decorated players to play for the Longhorns. Since the TSSAA bunched tennis into classifications in the late 1990s, Tugman is the only player from Johnson County in that time to reach the regional finals in singles.
Tugman is also the third Longhorn to sign in three years, and Johnson County head tennis coach Steve Nave is ecstatic over the signing and what this means to the program.
“I could not be more proud of where our tennis program is,” he said. “Having such high-character student athletes is a blessing any coach would love to have. It’s not easy to get a scholarship in any sport, but considering tennis isn’t a priority of young kids in this community, it really speaks to the work ethic and dedication of Carlton, Wade and Steven.
Tugman was probably the most highly recruited tennis player from Johnson County since Steve Arnold produced several Division I players on the girls side while he was coach of the Longhorns. Tugman even had a couple of Division I offers to join their team, but the offer to go to Milligan and join his brother was too good to pass up.
“Milligan is more of a blue-collar kind of team,” he said. “They only have one foreigner and I like the guys a lot. At a bigger school I would have to walk on and have to pay a little bit more and might not get enough playing time. I think Milligan was a good fit for me.
“I like playing with Wade and we might play some doubles next year. I think it might even help Wade some. He’s a little more competitive when I’m around. Maybe it will help both of us.”
Nave feels Tugman is making the right decision by taking his talents to West Carter County.
“Carlton really had two goals when choosing a school,” he said. “The first was academics and the second was that he would be playing early. I believe he had a chance to go D-I and be a lower seed, but he is too competitive to sit on the sidelines. I am very happy with his decision, as Milligan is a small school that focuses on character and education. I have no doubt he would succeed in any environment, but the transition will be much more smooth at Milligan.”
Another factor in Tugman’s decision was the opportunity to play for Ryan Reynolds, a former Science Hill and Milligan standout.
Reynolds competitiveness and the fact he is still a top-notch player gives Tugman reason to believe his game can go to an even higher level when he arrives on campus in the fall.
“He’s not only a great coach, he’s also a great player,” Tugman said. “I think that really made me want to go there.”
The signing will be not be the final chapter on his high school career. He has one more bit of business to take care of.
In 2010, Tugman joined up with his brother Wade to reach the Region finals in doubles. Carlton reached the finals in singles in 2011,
Basically, Unicoi County has been in the way of Tugman’s quest to reach Murfreesboro and he does not want to go down as one of the best players around here not to earn a berth to the state tournament.
He is dedicated to close his prep career in style and do something that has not been done very much in Johnson County tennis circles despite the rich history of the program.
“I get to the regionals or the regional finals and I don’t get to go to state,” Tugman said. “I’ve been hungry to go to state since I was in middle school. I really want to go to state before I graduate from high school.
Nave says whether he reaches the state tournament or not, Tugman’s legacy in Johnson County will remain intact.
“Carlton definitely has the talent and work ethic to make it to the state tournament, but I don’t feel his career will be defined by whether he makes it this year or not. I would say luck is as important as anything because so much is riding on every point. All it takes is one bad break; our tournaments are single elimination, so the stars really have to be aligned for whoever makes it from our region. I do believe he has a great shot. He can really overpower many of the players in our region and his mental game is getting so good.”
Tugman credited Coach Nave, Johnson County head boys basketball coach Austin Atwood, parents Joe and Sally Tugman and brother Wade and personal coaches Marvin Glover and David Poole for helping him in various aspects of his life.
Tugman’s parents have really encouraged the academic part and Carlton bought in at a very young age that the way he was going to get an athletic scholarship was to hit the books every night.
“Academics has brought me to where I’m at,” Carlton said. “If you look at it in our area they’re aren’t many Division I talents. Division I you can slide by, but in our area most of the kids who get scholarships go to private schools and they want higher ACT scores. Academics is how it works out.”
When the final verse is written on the high school tennis career of Carlton Tugman, he will without a doubt join the likes of Wes Pectol, Adam Cornett, Matt Pleasant, James Cox and brother Wade as some of the greatest players in a very proud program.
“It is almost impossible to rank the great players I have been lucky enough to coach. Carlton, Wade and James Cox are the top three, but I would not feel comfortable ranking any of them above the other. All three had tremendous work ethics and very successful careers. I am proud to have known and been a part of their lives,” Nave said.