When Jordan Tullis took a 50-yard back interception to land a 59-7 Morgan State setback in Georgia South last Saturday, it capped a 25-day whirlwind during which the rookie safety went from lining up in the back corner at LSU to entering the transition. The gate to join the bears.
And the 21-year-old Toles himself was the least surprised person at Allen E. Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Georgia.
“It was just what I imagined,” said this Baltimore-born and St. Francis graduate. “I used to make a difference in the game, but that wouldn’t have happened without my team. My teammates made sure I was aware of everything and made sure calls were received properly. So they set me up so that I would be in a good position to do the play.”
Toles’ performance, which featured twice, was a shining moment in the Morgan State season opener. As the Bears (0-1) prepare to visit Towson (1-0) in Saturday’s final batch of the Great Baltimore Battle, coach Damon Wilson hopes this is just the beginning.
“I expect him to achieve a lot,” Wilson said, Who was appointed in May to succeed Tyrone Wheatley. “He’s the type of player. He’s an all-around athlete, but the one thing I don’t think people understand is how smart he is. He has a high IQ in football, and it shows because he picked up the system pretty quickly. He doesn’t know everything now, but he’s getting better every day. And he has the desire to be good.”
Toles, a four-star recruit with the Panthers, has drawn interest from NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision programs such as Alabama, Florida, Maryland and Michigan. He initially settled in Ohio, but when Ed Orgeron and LSU made an offer, Tulles changed his mind.
After scoring in early January 2020, Tullis appeared in 14 games in two seasons. Switching from safety to corner kick to fortify a position lacking in depth last fall, he compiled six career high saves in a 38-27 loss at UCLA on September 4 and added three stops in a 42-21 setback in Kentucky in October. 9.
After the regular season, LSU fired Orgeron and replaced him with former Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. Tullis thought he played well at full-back to prove his value to the new coaching staff. But when he saw that the team had added five transitional corner runs without returning it to a safe spot, the writing was on the proverbial wall.
“Depending on how things were going, you could tell I wasn’t a part of it,” he said. “They were keeping me because they knew I could play. They never told me I couldn’t play or I wasn’t good enough. They were like, ‘We have a plan for these guys to get in,’ and they didn’t say that either, but you can just see it.”
Toles entered the transfer gate on August 11 and was recruited by Boston College, Colorado, and Penn State, among others. Morgan State made his bid through Wilson and Safety coach Melvin Coleman, who had known Tullis since his time in St. Francis.
“I just told him that with the things we’re doing here in Morgan State in terms of changing this program, we need people like him to be part of the program,” Wilson said. “He had a few other options, but I think when I talked to him and his mother, they were excited about the opportunity, and he saw the big picture. He didn’t get caught up in the glamor and glamour. He saw that he had a chance to come and be a part of something special and that we’re building here at Morgan.”
Tols said his first priority was a school that valued him.
“I was going to the team that needed me and they just didn’t want me,” he said. “I didn’t want to end up in the same situation. I knew what to put myself in at LSU. So the only thing I had to do was step into a field and show what I could do.”
Tullis arrived on campus just in time to witness the Bears brawl before the start of the season on August 27. He spent the week learning to defend and then came off the bench against South Georgia.
On interception, Tollis picked Year Six quarterback Kyle Fantres and raced on the left to tie the score at 7 with 9:42 left in the second quarter. But Tullis noted that his sophomore outfield midfielder Elijah Williams pressured Vantress to drop his goal in the play.
“At the end of the day, I look at it as doing my job,” he said. “I feel like I can play and I can make a difference in the game – whether it’s a choice, a faltering recovery or forced confusion. For me, it wasn’t special. It was just another play for me.”
Senior corner officer Jay Fionn Morton said the minor player didn’t need much time to welcome Toles into the fold.
“There was a connection,” Morton said, the pre-season All-Middle East Sports first team pick. “We were on the same page, and we instantly clicked.”
Tols said learning under three different defensive coordinators at LSU (Bo Pelini in 2020, Daronte Jones in 2021 and Matt House in 2022) helped him prepare for an adaptation to Antone’ Sewell’s playbook with the Bears. Toles said he is not interested in individual honors or accolades.
“My personal goals align with the team’s success,” he said. “I can set game stats and all those kinds of things, but if you don’t win matches or defense doesn’t get in the way of our end of the bargain, my personal goals don’t really matter to me.”
Returning to Baltimore gives the Tullis family of both parents, two stepfathers, two sets of grandparents and great-grandparents, three sisters, and one brother opportunities to watch him play in person.
Tulles, who said he remains in contact with LSU secretaries Joe Foucha and Greg Brooks Jr. Linebackers Micah Baskerville and Greg Penn III, another Baltimore resident. “I just feel like it’s going to put an extra battery in my back.”
Last season, Morgan State ranked last in the conference in pass defense (261.5 yards per game) and overall defense (436.5 yards). Morton expected that Tullis’ arrival would help the unit reverse these numbers.
“It strengthens us greatly,” he said. “Last year we were struggling in the safety group. This year, we have someone who can change him for us. … We can be the No. 1 defense in MEAC. That’s what I believe in.”
Wilson isn’t quite ready to make a similar announcement. But, he said, Tullis’ decision to join the Beers family sends a message to potential recruits about the school’s promise.
“It just shows that we’re going in the right direction as a programme,” he said. “…I spoke to Jordan twice during the process, and I gave him my word. I didn’t call him every night or something. You either want to be a part of what we’re doing or you don’t, and he saw what we were up to as employees and took the opportunity. So we’re excited. .
Morgan State @ Towson
Saturday, 7 pm
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