Football Millikan

FEATURE: Millikan’s Riley Tuggle Is Not Your Typical Linebacker, Teammate Or Brother

The562’s coverage of football in 2023-24 is sponsored in part by the MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center Foundation and Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital Foundation

The562’s coverage of Millikan athletics in the 2023-24 school year is sponsored by Curtis Boyer.

The history of football is full of intimidating linebackers who went about their business with a mean streak.

Riley Tuggle isn’t that kind of linebacker.

“I’m always taking things on the bright side, and this is supposed to be the thing that I love to do,” Tuggle said of football. “My first mission is to always do my job, but I’m always making sure that I’m still having fun.”

If you watch Millikan football it’s impossible to miss Tuggle joyfully bouncing around the field as if his long blonde curly hair were made of box springs.

“If Riley isn’t dancing out there you know he’s having a bad game,” said Tuggle’s dad, Tommy. “When he’s out there moving around and smiling, that’s when Riley is locked in. That’s when he’s at his best. It’s love and it’s fun to watch.”

Tuggle’s passionate exuberance and love for the game has made him a perfect senior captain for the Rams, but it’s lessons learned off the field that truly prepared him for last high school season.


Football is a way of life for the Tuggle family. That’s why Tommy and mom Heather had to grin and bear it when grandpa Bill signed Riley up for Los Alamitos Pop Warner when he was five-years old.

“The man wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Tommy said of his dad.

Heather was obviously trepidatious about her baby boy playing tackle football, but it was his energy on the field that won her over.

“The first game I watched I was practically in tears the whole time because he was so adorable,” she remembered. “He was all helmet.”

Tuggle doesn’t remember his first games, but his first football memory is getting a tooth knocked out while trying to make a tackle. A lot of young kids would cry and want to stop playing the sport that made them bleed. Tuggle isn’t that kind of kid.

“I was surprised and bleeding, but I responded by laughing,” Tuggle said. “I didn’t know that could happen. It was fun.”

Obviously that mindset is perfect for a defender, so Tuggle fit right in as a defensive end for Los Alamitos in sixth grade. He started to get really good thanks to his speed and tenacity. It’s also not a coincidence that middle school was the same time Tuggle started gaining confidence in being his true self— a free spirit.

Tuggle started growing and cutting his hair into a mohawk or dreadlocks, something his parents encouraged, while still being a dedicated big brother to his sister Mollie, who has special needs. That part came natural, like when one of his Pop Warner coaches flippantly used a derogatory word for mentally challenged people.

“I remember Riley raising his hand and he asked the coach nicely if he could not say that word because it hurts his little sister’s feelings,” Tommy recalled. “He was so little. I’m getting emotional just thinking about that.”


Riley, 18, and Mollie, 17, are truly each other’s biggest fans— whether it’s Riley on the football field or Mollie performing with her dance team. Heather said their sibling love has always been contagious.

“All of these boys that were (Riley’s) friend group (while growing up in Westminster) just adopted Mollie as their sister,” Heather said. “Parents would tell us all the time how much they feel like Mollie being in their lives has created more compassionate kids, and I absolutely see that with Riley.”

“As a family, we’ve talked about it for years, we 100 percent feel like we are way more happy with Mollie in our lives,” Tuggle said. “Mollie makes our lives so much better. We just get so much enjoyment from things, from her.”

It’s a tradition for Mollie to sit in the end zone stands at DeHaven Stadium so that her and big brother can share a hug.

“I love Ry Ry, I like when he catches the ball,” Mollie said. “It’s so fun when he dances. I teach him (dances) all the time.”

Tuggle credits Mollie with helping him stay positive on and off the football field because he’s that kind of big brother.

“It’s a better way of going about life,” he said. “Anything taken with a positive attitude will end up better for you in the end.”

When he came to Millikan to play for family friend Romeo Pellum, who coached at Los Alamitos, Tuggle used that positive energy to embrace a new position at linebacker. He had thinned out over the summer, and quickly adjusted to having more space to cover with this natural speed. Tuggle played in his first Varsity games as a freshman and has been an integral part of the Rams defense ever since.

“He’s been through it all,” Pellum said of Tuggle. “He saw where we were at and he’s been with us to be able to see where we are now. He’s definitely a crucial part of our success and my success as a coach.”

Tuggle was eager to learn behind older linebackers as he earned more and more playing time. By junior year, Tuggle was a starting linebacker alongside Matt Robinson. They had a few great games under their belts when a road trip to Arizona changed everything.


The game at Sunrise Mountain was a chippy affair with both teams initiating altercations. One of these shoving matches went too far, and Tuggle was ejected from the game for punching an opponent. He would miss the next three games while suspended, and he would never be the same.

“I definitely let them get into my head, and it was probably a moment of weakness within me,” Tuggle said. “I’m smarter than that, I know how much more the game matters than myself… It was horrible.”

Instead of rushing to his side and coddling him, Tommy and Heather sat back and waited to see how their happy-go-lucky son would react to losing his cool.

“It was like, ‘Let’s see what kind of man he is right here,’ and he owned it,” Tommy said. “I was impressed. It made him a better leader. He made a turn from just a player to a leader who leads by example.”

Tuggle responded by apologizing to his coaches, his teammates and his family before going back to practice with renewed vigor. He was going to practice harder than he ever practiced before because he’s that kind of teammate.

“Knowing that I couldn’t play in the game, I gave my offense and who I was going against the greatest looks that I could to get them ready for any game,” Tuggle said. “After I came back, my teammates being excited that I’m back on the field made me more excited to play.”

“For him it was a wakeup call, an ‘I don’t know what I have until I lose it’ kind of situation,” coach Pellum said. “He saw what football meant to him.”

Monthly Subscribers to The562

By The562 Network Inc

Tuggle’s reaction to his own mistake, and the support he’d shown his teammates throughout, earned him a spot as team captain this season.

According to Millikan’s MaxPreps statistics, Tuggle has 173 tackles and eight sacks in 29 games across four years with the Rams. That averages out to six tackles per game.

“I’m so proud of how hard he’s worked,” Heather said.


Heather is also working hard for the Millikan football program as the parent handling all of the paperwork. Or as Pellum calls her, “the Chief of Staff” who does everything from travel itinerary to taking photos on the sideline.

“She does everything outside of football,” said Pellum, “It’s so easy for me to just coach… The Tuggle’s and Pellum’s are family. Our families are closer with each other than we are with some of our blood relatives.”

Tuggle said he appreciates that his mom is right there throughout his football journey.

“She does such a good job, besides the fact that it’s my mom, the fact that Heather Tuggle is at Millikan doing the things that she’s doing, helping the program run, I love it,” he said.

“I also just really like excel spreadsheets,” Heather added with a smile.

Finding his comfortable place that’s surrounded by the love and positivity he craves has helped Tuggle grow into the type of linebacker who will knock you down, help you up and then say something hilarious about it before returning to his position to do it again.

“I wouldn’t even consider myself funny, I just say things,” he said. “Half of it’s just how I’m feeling. For the most part it just flows.”

Much like the flow of hair coming out the back of his helmet— he’s just that kind of linebacker.

Preview: Millikan at Compton, Football
JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.