Tuttle the epitome of an enthusiastic, do-it-all signal caller

The coaches at Mission Hills High School will confirm, there was very little Jack Tuttle couldn’t do at quarterback.

Challenge him to hit an upright from 50 yards away, he would launch footballs straight at it. Ask him to drop one in a bucket from 40 yards out, and that pigskin plunked in. Send him out onto the field to win a game, just a few minutes remaining, Tuttle would find the goal line.

That’s why he was recruited by Alabama, LSU, USC, and the like. That’s how he threw for 41 touchdowns and just four interceptions as a senior at Mission Hills. He did it all.

There was one thing, however, his high school coaches didn’t necessarily want. But it’s one thing that probably best explains what made Tuttle the quarterback he is.

“Why are you 30 yards down the field blocking a safety?” Mission Hills quarterback coach DJ Zapata would have to ask his star pupil, who most definitely shouldn’t have been putting his body on the line that way.

“Carry out the fake. Keep yourself protected.”

Tuttle just couldn’t abide. He was too competitive. So competitive, it’s safe to assume the former Elite 11 quarterback was never totally content being the backup at Indiana. But his downfield blocks help explain why Tuttle would be anything but a grumpy second-stringer.

He could do almost anything with the ball in his hands at Mission Hills. But when it was out of his hands, he didn’t just quit. He would end up 30 yards downfield, blocking a safety, and then explaining himself to Zapata.

“No, I want my teammates to score,” Tuttle would say. “I want them to know how important it is to me that they are successful, too.”

It sounds almost too virtuous to be true, but Tuttle said something similar a few days ago, when asked about his habit of arriving first to IU walkthroughs, even when he wasn’t in line to start or play. “For me,” he said, “it’s just I want to do every single thing I can for my team. I care about them so much.”

Now, IU is Tuttle’s team. He takes over in the middle of a dream season, but not necessarily in an ideal scenario. Michael Penix Jr. is out for the year with a torn ACL. The next opponent is No. 18 Wisconsin, on the road.

The question of how Tuttle will respond on the field is an open one, because he’s yet to start a game at this level. But those who last saw him in action, the coaches at Mission Hills, have little doubt about how he will approach this opportunity.

With a cannon arm, yes. With supreme confidence, absolutely. But he will also bring unrivaled enthusiasm.

Almost too much sometimes.

“Jack’s enthusiasm for the game of football is what drives him,” Zapata said. “If he needs to flip the switch and be more calm, he can. But if he needs to be enthusiastic and put a block on somebody 30 yards downfield, he will.”

Being the man

Mission Hills head coach Chris Hauser will recall his weekly offseason film sessions with a young quarterback, taken aback by the words escaping Tuttle’s mouth.

One time, Hauser sought to engage Tuttle’s mind with clips of NFL passers like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers.

“Tell me about this guy? What do you like about this guy?” Hauser asked.

With Rodgers, for example, Tuttle had an insightful enough answer for a teen. “Coach, I love his quick release,” Tuttle said, “and he does a great job of extending plays, and keeping eyes upfield.”

“Oh,” Hauser thought. “He knows who he is.”

Hauser calls Tuttle an “AP,” or advanced placement, quarterback. Asked to go to a whiteboard and draw up routes versus a zone, he broke it down. Asked to describe a great NFL quarterback, he found the essence.

He did it all.

But there were other things Tuttle said at an early age that truly stunned Hauser.

“His sophomore year, he flat out told us, ‘Coach, I’m going to be your starting quarterback. I’m going to be your guy,'” Hauser said.

A couple of years removed from puberty, Tuttle wanted to be the man. He said it, confidently, to Hauser’s face. He wanted to start for Mission Hills, a school with more than 2,500 kids, about a half-hour north of San Diego.

Mission Hill doesn’t have a long history, opening its doors in 2004, but that just set Tuttle up to be the first varsity freshman in the program’s history. He threw for about 500 yards as the No. 2 QB. Once he got that small taste of varsity snaps, Tuttle was coming for the rest.

In those offseason meetings, he was adamant about it.

“Hearing that from a 14- and 15-year-old that early on in their high school playing career, with an incumbent who was a very talented quarterback in front of him, he had that level of confidence that he’s going to outwork anyone and he was going to be more prepared than anybody and it was going to be difficult or impossible for us to say anyone was more ready to play,” Zapata said.

“You see it in movies, you see it on Sundays, ‘I’m the guy, it’s my job … I take ownership of everything.’ You don’t hear that all the time from a 15-year-old, and you don’t always believe it. When Jack says it, you believe it.”

Words turned into action. If his rollout passes were a hair off in practice, he’d grab a receiver, stand him at the route’s finishing point, and fire 15 or 20 more.

His work ethic was infectious. One receiver would stay after practice, and then it was two or three, then five or six. Then the Mission Hills linemen were staying post-practice to get in some pass protection sets.

By his sophomore season, there was no doubt who Mission Hills’ quarterback was. Tuttle was tossing post patterns 40 yards downfield with magnificent arc and precision. His first offer came from San Diego State that year, and they just continued to pour in.

“I remember when we got the Alabama offer, and I put him on the phone, he had a gigantic smile, and he’s extremely happy, and he says ‘Let’s get back to work, coach,'” Hauser said.

“His teammates come up to him, say congrats. He tells them ‘You’re a big reason why this is happening,’ and then he wanted to get back out there and throw the ball around.”

Tuttle’s prep journey is almost too polished, like it belongs on the Disney Channel. But it’s true. He wasn’t just an AP-level quarterback. He was in AP classes. He didn’t just hang out with other star athletes. He was a member of the ping pong club, which Zapata ran.

There was a set of twins who ruled the table, but Zapata recalls an ultra-competitive Tuttle trying his best.

“He was an above-average ping pong player,” Zapata said. “I’m sure he would tell you he’s the greatest ever.”

Zapata and Hauser found ways to harness Tuttle’s competitiveness. He was so efficient getting out of the training room before practice, he would arrive early for competitions, warming up by trying to hit an upright from the 30-yard line, far hash. He had to hit it twice, while Zapata, a former Mission Hills QB, had to hit it once.

That’s the only way Zapata could win.

“He’d drop it in a bucket from 40 yards, he’d hit the upright from a hash, on the run, all those things,” Zapata said. “He was not afraid to call me out for cheating in any of those drills, either.”

There was another competition Zapata and Tuttle loved: destroying receivers’ gloves.

“Jack and I’s goal was ‘How many gloves are we going to rip today?'” Zapata said. “How hard are you going to spin it today that those kids that just spent $30, $40 on a new pair of gloves, I’m going to rip a hitch at you from five yards, and I’m doing everything I can?

“His spin was unreal.”

Zapata, also a math teacher, wishes he had the tools to measure Tuttle’s spin rate. But the two would talk about the physics of that spiral in class. Tuttle’s ball doesn’t have as much of a “U” shape or a parabola. It’s a tight-spinning, far-floating football, sent into space by Tuttle’s violent finishing motion.

His deep ball was such a magnificent spectacle, Hauser still gets goosebumps thinking about post patterns from Tuttle’s sophomore year.

“It was exciting,” Hauser said. “Get under center, play-fake, a post by an outside receiver, 40 yards over the top. That’s a thing of beauty. That’s fun.”

By the time Tuttle was a senior, he was a 6-foot-4, 195-pound specimen bound for Utah. He had already thrown so many deep bombs, but when he was paired with Ohio State recruit Chris Olave in his final season, it was a blitzkrieg.

Tuttle just always wanted more. Zapata and Tuttle would talk about NFL quarterbacks who were “spied” by opposing defenses. Aaron Rodgers always had a spy watching him. Phillip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, they didn’t. Tuttle wanted a spy. He wanted defenses to know he could run.

Tuttle recently declined to answer a question about his running ability heading into the Wisconsin game. He wanted to keep that a “secret.” Zapata heard that and cracked up laughing.

“Of course Jack said that,” Zapata said. “People saw the frame and saw what we did with him as far as being in the pocket and getting the ball out quick, but he always, always, always was adamant about his dual-threat ability.

“When you have a special talent like that, there’s no need to run between the tackles all the time. He was always adamant about wanting more designed quarterback runs.”

His coaches didn’t want it, though. As Hauser put it, “I don’t have another Jack Tuttle standing next to me on the sideline.” So even with the dawn of zone-read and RPO offenses, Mission Hills didn’t ask Tuttle to run often. If they did, he was smart — usually — and avoided hits.

But just calling a handoff came with risk.

“He does a zone read on the d-end, and now suddenly he’s blocking the d-end 15 yards down the field because he just wants to be involved,” Zapata said.

“Enthusiastic is just how I would describe Jack.”

Biding his time

Nearly three years removed from Mission Hills, another coach is now concerned about Tuttle’s well-being. Because of, again, his boundless enthusiasm.

But for IU coach Tom Allen, he wasn’t thinking about quarterback runs. He was thinking about Tuttle just watching too much film of Wisconsin.

“Our concern was that he was not going to get any sleep. He was going to study so much film, he wasn’t going to get any rest,” Allen said this week on his radio show. “But that’s just what kind of kid he is.”

He just cares so much.

Because he cares, Allen knows it wasn’t easy for Tuttle to be a backup at IU. After things didn’t work out at Utah, he transferred to the Hoosiers’ program right after the 2018 season, fully embracing a chance to compete with an incumbent starter, Peyton Ramsey, and another highly touted recruit in his class, Michael Penix Jr.

Tuttle competed. He didn’t win.

Allen had to have a tough conversation with Ramsey when he lost his job to Penix, an up-and-coming star in his own right. Allen has had to have conversations with Tuttle, too, from last year to this year.

“In this day and age, it’s hard,” Allen said. “You see a lot of places where quarterbacks, if they are not getting to play for a year or so, they go somewhere else. That’s a tribute to him, a testament to his perseverance and character, and just saying, ‘Hey, I want to stay here, and I want to develop here, and I want to help this team in any way possible.'”

Tuttle may have spent his formative years in California, but he was born in Indianapolis. He’s the son of a former IU walk-on kicker, Jay, who taught him how to hate Purdue. Now he’s a major in supply chain management at IU’s prestigious Kelley School of Business.

Eventually, Tuttle could be IU’s starting quarterback. He just had to wait, which Zapata knows wouldn’t be easy. Not for a QB who at 14 and 15 years old was telling coaches at Missions Hills that he’d be the man.

“While it would be difficult, it would probably eat at him a little, I think he’d always put the team first,” Zapata said. “If the coaches believe the guy in front of him is the starter, he’ll bide his time, make sure he’s prepared, but also be the best teammate he can be.”

On a moment’s notice, Tuttle went into last Saturday’s game with Maryland. He hit all five of his passes. Six if you count his first one, a two-point conversion throw to his tight end on a quick out.

He was ready.

Is he now ready to be the guy, keeping the Hoosiers’ offense humming, on the road, at Wisconsin? The faith Penix inspired in his teammates in late-game situations, can Tuttle create that same belief?

Ask Zapata about Tuttle in the clutch, and he can pull out a memory. It’s from a rivalry game with San Marcos, Tuttle’s senior year. Mission Hills called max protection — because, of course, they wanted Tuttle in that pocket — with Olave cutting across the field on a deep “sail” route, aiming for the end zone’s opposite pylon.

Olave was one-on-one. Tuttle’s fast-spinning ball zipped through the air. The defense had no chance.

“There was no doubt that Jack was going to do what it took to get us down the field, whenever we needed him to,” Zapata said. “Multiple times in his career, he looked down the barrel of the gun, completed the tight pass, fell forward for that extra yard. He always did that.

“There was never a doubt, when we had the ball, four or three minutes left in the game, down four points, we’re going to make it down the field if Jack is in the game.”

Now, Jack is in the game for IU. 

“Obviously wants to play, like everyone who comes here,” Allen said. “There’s a level of patience you have to have, and there’s also a level of perseverance and persistence when you never know when you might get that opportunity.

“When it comes, you gotta seize it.”

29 comments

  1. One thing is for sure he was in One of the best WEATHER places in all the world if you like sunshine and lower humidity. I have been there On vacation 5 times during winter and spring over the last 7 years. Out of all the qbs including M.P. and Ramsey Tuttle has the most ability for NFL.

      1. I know it’s high school. His highlight tape and can’t imagine to many were better than his athletic, physical, pass ball to excellent receivers (one being Olathe/OSU). For high school he looked the part.

  2. I still find it amazing how IU, after so many years without the appropriate quality and depth at the QB position, could be so blessed to have Ramsey, Penix and Tuttle on last year’s roster. This year we have Penix, Tuttle and a stud freshman from Georgia. And next season we’re getting a 4-star QB who may be the best of all of them. Funny how a career defensive coach so clearly out-recruited his predecessor who had a reputation as a “quarterback guru.” TA is making Wilson’s QB recruiting to shame; it’s not even close.

    1. I never heard that Wilson was a QB guru. He was a great schemer and knew how call plays in the first quarter to set up the defenses to take the bait in the third quarter. He tried to fit QBs into his scheme, not scheme to fit the QBs, and the recruits could sense that. My two cents worth.

  3. PO. Who is the 4 star next year? McCulley qb Indianapolis per espn is 77 3 star. And I think McCulley at 77 3 star is overrated at that. I watched him on tv a few times and he didn’t do much. Maybe it was because of team and competition he was playing. Maybe, he has mic upside but he is not as good as what iu had the last couple years. There is no comparison between J.T. and McCulley. However, there wasn’t any comparison between their HS teams either.

    1. t, McCulley is the 4 star on every list except espn, I know you go by espn but who are their evaluators and you may think he is overrated but most evaluators don’t think so. We won’t really know how good he is until he plays on the college field but many people think he will be very good. Penix was not rated too high, but now NFL evaluators rated him as the #9 best QB in the country.

      Since I didn’t get to watch him in games I don’t know how good he is but we will find out over the next few years. By the way 247 listed McCulley as one of the top 100 in the country.

      1. Tuttle was a 79 3 star per espn. Penix was 78 3 star per espn. So McCulley is right there per espn. However, looking at Tuttle (HS highlights that can be a little misleading) plus Tuttle played for a very good team and watching and I didn’t watch NcCulley often just some of 3 games…McCulley I just never seemed to do much nor did his team. Though Purdue, Brohm and other schools recruited him. Purdue, Cincinnati, Wake, and IU were among the most major.

        1. Tuttle has many big time programs recruiting him. Questions might be asked as to how they were going to use him (Utah for example). However, J. T. time is now at IU…. J.T. at least highlights H.S. play back up his ability.

      2. With the sliding product they offer on TV why does anyone even look at their talent rating evaluation? Waste of time.

        1. They probably get info from other places not that their ratings are better than others but I do it for my own consistency. Plus what I may observe if I see players playing by highlights or by chance on tv. That’s all.

  4. The only plus in JT is the joy Don Fischer will find in saying “Tuttle in the huddle.” Or, “The Hoosiers appear befuddled…It’s taking too long to shuttle a play to Tuttle in the huddle”….?

    Will the differences in talent from Penix to Tuttle be much more than subtle? If we lose big, you’ll need Coach K to cuddle.

  5. We will find out in 15 hours or so how good Tuttle is and how he can run the offense for IU. He may be a stud QB and hurt Wisconsin’s defense, he may be a flop hurting IU offense, or something in between. In around 15 hours we will know how he does in his first test on the college field as a leader of IU’s offense.

    Here’s hoping for the best with Tuttle that his talent shines through and leads to another IU nemesis getting knocked off.

    1. Purdue down 27-10 at half time. They are not play well on offense or defense right now following their loss to Rutgers last week.

  6. One thing appears to be clear, Purdue is NOT getting their money’s worth out of Brohm. He may be the most over-paid head coach in the Big Ten, if not amongst all Power-five conference schools.

  7. I don’t know how Jon Blau compiles so much info for a story, but it’s damn impressive. He should work for the FBI to find “most wanted” criminals. I’m also amazed he can reach so many people to grab quotes from years ago. I suppose the journalism profession is 90% interviews/investigation/evidence and 10% creativity/argument.

    Good work, Jon. But for all this proof/evidence you’ve provided and witnesses on the stand to attest to Tutttle’s “talents and do everything to win” mentality, I can’t help but still think Penix is still the difference that put us over the top.

    You can’t create or usurp “it factor.” Penix has something natural and present. It’s visible within moments he takes the field. It doesn’t need a witness stand, six pages of job recommendations or a sell job from every Tom, Dick and Harry who’s ever rubbed shoulders with him.

    Nice job presenting the case for Tuttle. Unfortunately, first downs are not made via completed quotes. Final scores are not job recommendations.

  8. According to Rivals: “Michael Penix Jr. was the highest-ranked quarterback to sign with Indiana in the Rivals era when he came to Bloomington as part of the 2018 class. The former four-star has lived up to the hype, leading the Hoosiers to a 5-1 record and top 10 ranking nationally this season. Penix, though, is about to be surpassed as Indiana’s highest-ranked quarterback pick-up when the class of 2021 signs.

    In-state four-star Donaven McCulley committed to the Hoosiers back in June, and ranks as the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback and No. 100 prospect overall following a bump following his senior season. Like Penix, McCulley is a pass-first quarterback with an outstanding arm, but he can also hurt defenses with his feet if a play breaks down. He completed 70% of his passes for 2,576 yards and 22 touchhdowns, while rushing for 506 yards.”

    “The #4 dual-threat quarterback!” We have no idea how good McCulley will turn out to be, but no one can deny that, regardless of which rating service you follow, the quality of QB talent IU FB has recruited since TA became the head coach is unprecedented.

    1. Agree, 100% qb recruiting is upgraded sinceT.A. McCulley may be good the time he is a junior or senior. Or he will play behind a future IU football recruit that is unknown at the moment. McCulley is only a 3 star per espn and he doesn’t play like a 4 star but standing on the field may look like a border line 4 star. McCulley DID NOT have what would be considered big time offers. Tuttle did.

  9. Lot of money for Moore and OSU letting him loose (little unknown and lack of scouting) on national tv.
    Then, 2020 season is cloudy and Moore on his way out.

  10. Has there ever been a cyclops quarterback? Sort of gives new meaning to an ‘eye’ formation.

    I’ve always thought of Purdue as the cyclops monster of Indiana colleges…Always one lonely only eye on Indiana. One very busy eyeball running from left to right, up and down….scanning our banners. A fast dizziness sets in and he drops again to the floor. The large beast hits the West Lafayette cement as tears flow down a land of streets and pavement. The crowd assembles around him and cheers him to his feet by calling him “handsome.” He’s upright. But he’s a prisoner to the one eye. The magnet eye locks in, again, on the Home of Five Banners.
    Rapid it spins as it fights to jump out its one socket…..if only to see all five banners at once.

  11. Too bad IU couldn’t have landed Bell at PU. Imagine that receiving corp. He is their one highlight this year. Plummer will be their QB going forward. Moore looks like he is playing cautiously due to future plans in the NFL.

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