BIG-TIME POTENTIAL: Speedy Temple sophomore Tutson blazes onto scene with five TDs in two-game span
NOSE FOR THE END ZONE: After not making any receptions in Temple's season-opening victory at McKinney, sophomore wide receiver Christian Tutson erupted for five touchdowns in the Wildcats' last two games. The 5-foot-11, 160-pound speedster made two long TD catches in the 34-20 home win over Willis, then recorded TDs on a 31-yard blocked punt return, a 94-yard kickoff return and an 18-yard reception in Temple's 45-35 loss at state-ranked College Station last Friday. Tutson and Temple (2-1) host No. 11-ranked Arlington Martin (2-1) in the Wildcats' non-district finale at 7:30 Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
That word comes up quite often when the person being discussed is Christian Tutson, the Temple Wildcats’ talented sophomore wide receiver and kick returner.
“Potential just means you ain’t done it yet,” legendary Texas Longhorns football coach Darrell Royal famously said.
However, the intriguing thing about Tutson is that he already is doing it. He’s using his breakaway speed, top-notch athleticism and keen instincts to make explosive, game-changing plays for the Wildcats, as evidenced by scoring five touchdowns in their last two games.
So, where does the concept of “potential” enter the conversation? It comes from the belief of Tutson and his coaches that the 5-foot-11, 160-pound speedster is merely scratching the surface of what his natural ability eventually will allow him to achieve while wearing Temple’s blue-front, white-back pants.
The mild-mannered, serious-minded Tutson is far from a finished product. After all, he’s only three games into his varsity career and won’t turn 16 until March.
“No one (in Temple’s program) is surprised by his athleticism and his speed,” said Wildcats head coach Scott Stewart, who watched Tutson score approximately 30 touchdowns for the Wildcats’ freshman team last year.
“Obviously he’s got a ton of potential. The sky’s the limit,” Temple offensive coordinator Robby Case said, adding that Tutson (seven receptions for 169 yards and three TDs) realistically could have seven total touchdowns this season if not for two dropped passes.
In Temple’s 34-20 home win over Willis two weeks ago, Tutson got wide open behind the secondary and hauled in junior quarterback Reese Rumfield’s bomb for a 65-yard touchdown on his first varsity reception. He added a 32-yard catch-and-run TD in the third quarter and finished with 128 yards on four grabs.
“I think it broke the layer of nervousness I had in my body, playing my first varsity games. After that first touchdown, I just started playing how I always play football,” Tutson said Tuesday as Temple (2-1) prepared for its game against Class 6A No. 11-ranked Arlington Martin (2-1) at 7:30 Friday night at Wildcat Stadium.
“Even our first week, it took him a game to get the jitters out a little bit. He had a couple of opportunities against McKinney to make a play, and I think once he got that first touchdown against Willis it was like, ‘OK, I know I can do this. I’m here and I belong here,’” Case said. “It’s just him maturing into the person we knew he would be and the player we knew he would be this year. The sky’s the limit.”
TAKING IT ALL THE WAY: Temple sophomore Christian Tutson (11) runs between College Station's Conner Young (left) and Fisher Mainard en route to a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown early in the third quarter of the Wildcats' 45-35 loss to the host Cougars last Friday night. Tutson also returned sophomore Leslie Jackson's blocked punt 31 yards for a TD and caught an 18-yard scoring pass from junior Reese Rumfield. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Tutson produced another big-time performance – and a more versatile one – in Temple’s non-district duel at College Station last Friday. The Wildcats lost 45-35 in a clash of state-ranked teams, but Tutson returned fellow sophomore Lezlie Jackson’s blocked punt 31 yards for a first-quarter touchdown, scored on an electric 94-yard kickoff return early in the third and added an 18-yard TD catch late in the fourth.
“It’s not very often where you see two special teams touchdowns in different phases of the game by the same kid,” Case said. “That might be one of the few times I’ve ever seen that.”
Said Tutson about his three-touchdown, highlight-reel game: “I was really excited, especially on special teams with the kickoff return and the punt block return. I think returning a kick is better than any reception I could get. You get the whole field to run.”
What set the wheels in motion for Tutson’s outstanding play in Temple’s last two games was a varsity debut that didn’t go as well as he had hoped. Tutson didn’t make any receptions in the Wildcats’ season-opening 17-10 victory at McKinney on Aug. 27, dropping an on-target Rumfield pass that, with his speed, most likely would have gone for a much-needed score in a tightly contested game.
“That would’ve been a touchdown,” Tutson stated matter-of-factly.
Stewart noticed a difference in Tutson’s approach during the week of practice that followed the McKinney game. In short, he began to practice how he wanted to play.
“Personally, I didn’t use to do that until Coach Stew brought that up to me. We had a talk about how he knows what I can do and (how to reach) my full potential,” Tutson said. “I responded and came back to practice with a positive mindset: ‘It’s just one game and I’m just going to sweep that off.’ After we had that talk I started going full speed in practice, going at game speed – how I’m supposed to practice. So now I don’t have to turn on the switch.”
Stewart certainly got the desired response from the receptive Tutson.
“Sophomores, they don’t know what they don’t know. That first week of practice (for McKinney), it was like, ‘OK, he’s going to be a serviceable kid. We can work him in.’ We saw him run some routes and he had a couple of drops against McKinney,” Stewart said. “The big change for me was I saw a difference in him (the next week while preparing for Willis). He wasn’t going through the motions.
“Nobody sat him down and said, ‘Hey, you need to work harder and you’ll catch those balls.’ (But) he was finishing plays. He would catch it on the 20-yard line and he’d turn up and burst and make sure he got to the end zone. That’s stuff that veterans will do when they find themselves with a little lack of focus. He had a great week of practice and then obviously had a breakout game against Willis.”
CAN'T CATCH HIM: Temple sophomore wide receiver Christian Tutson sprints between two Willis defenders on a 32-yard touchdown catch-and-run from junior quarterback Reese Rumfield during the Wildcats' 34-20 victory at Wildcat Stadium on Sept. 2. Tutson made four receptions for 128 yards in that game, including a 65-yard TD strike from Rumfield. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
For Tutson, employing an improved mental outlook wasn’t the only significant thing that happened at practice leading into the Willis game.
“About the middle of the week, I was catching a kickoff return and I dislocated my right pinkie finger,” he said. “It’s jammed here and there and was taped off pretty bad, but that didn’t affect me at all.”
While most of his current Temple teammates played middle school football for Travis or Lamar, Tutson starred at Bonham. Back then he played quarterback, not receiver. His father, Leslie Tutson, played quarterback at Bartlett during the Bulldogs’ highly successful run in the early 1990s.
“We never won against Travis and Lamar when I was there. (But) they would give me applause after the game and tell me how good I am and stuff,” Tutson recalled with a grin.
Said Tutson about his father’s influence: “He encourages me a lot. He always says what I have right now, he didn’t have back then, that he didn’t have my skill ability. He said Bartlett was pretty good back then when Bob McQueen was (coaching) at Temple.”
After moving to wide receiver for Temple’s freshman team last year, Tutson was virtually impossible for opponents to contain. He estimated that he scored somewhere between 25 and 30 touchdowns in 10 games as he caught passes from quarterback Kade Stewart, son of the Wildcats’ head coach.
“I mean, Christian is a kid who was faster than everyone else as a sixth-grader, seventh-grader, eighth-grader and ninth-grader,” Scott Stewart said. “If we did nothing but call deep routes to him, we could have set a world record.”
Although Tutson might have possessed the raw physical ability to compete on the varsity level as a 5-9, 145-pound freshman, he says he wasn’t yet ready to do that from an all-around perspective.
“I was fine being on the freshman team because I needed more improvement on my game, especially route running. I wasn’t ready to be on varsity, personally,” Tutson said. “But playing on the freshman team with guys from three different middle schools, I think we were pretty dominant.”
Tutson’s development as a football player was slowed somewhat after he sustained a knee injury while playing basketball for Temple’s top freshman team last season. The way he did it shouldn’t be a surprise.
“I ended up dunking a ball, and when I came down I landed on my knee on the ground,” said Tutson, who didn’t require surgery but still missed the rest of the season and then was limited by the injury during the Wildcats’ spring football practices, keeping him out of the Blue-White game in May.
Stewart was impressed by the diligent way in which Tutson rehabilitated his injury and came back better than before.
“What you don’t know when they’re in middle school is their day-in, day-out (way of doing things). His knee was bothering him after basketball, so he didn’t do a whole lot during the spring and did a little bit during the summer. But what I love about that kid is his work ethic and just his approach to his work,” Stewart said about Tutson, the only sophomore on Temple’s leadership council.
“He’s got a yeoman’s attitude and he’s a blue-collar guy. He’s not real flashy as far as his personality. A lot of those guys who can run like that and catch like that and make plays like that, they wear big chains and shades all the time. Not at all (with Tutson).”
Said Case about Tutson: “I have a tough time getting anything out of him myself sometimes. He’s very serious. He’s all about business. Obviously he’s got a ton of potential, and I think he saw that last year. He knows how fast he is, so hopefully that’s the right mindset that he’s building off of – this serious, businesslike type of attitude.”
Tutson said he considers his top-end speed to be a God-given ability, so most observers probably would be quite surprised to learn that he hasn’t also dominated as a young track athlete.
“No, I haven’t run track at all. Not once,” Tutson said.
He likely would have excelled for Bonham’s track and field in seventh grade, but the COVID-19 pandemic canceled that season. Then injuries prevented Tutson from competing in track and field as an eighth-grader and as a freshman.
Temple head track and field coach and assistant football coach Justin Pierce doesn’t need to worry about this coming spring. Tutson said he intends to run sprints and relays for the Wildcats following the basketball season.
Case believes that running track should help Tutson become even more explosive on the football field, boosting his profile among the college recruiters who likely will soon take notice of his big-play production.
“I think track will help him as far as recruiting goes once he puts those numbers up as a sophomore. We’ve all told him that. He should run a sub-11-second 100 meters, and as a sophomore that’ll turn some heads,” Case said. “Other people slow down and he just continues to pull away. And it’s not just that he can go fast; he can also make people miss and he can jump out of the gym.
“I watched him this summer in 7-on-7 jump up and pluck a ball out of the air and I was like, ‘Holy cow.’ He looked like he was floating in the air. So he’s really got a lot of different tools that give him freakish ability.”
After making his first big varsity plays with the two long touchdown receptions in the win over Willis, Tutson built on that breakthrough with another scoring outburst at always-challenging College Station.
With Temple trailing 3-0 late in the first quarter, Jackson came up with his second blocked punt of the night and Tutson was there to grab the ball at the Cougars’ 31-yard line before he sprinted in for his first special teams TD on varsity. Tutson said he and Jackson actually were scrambling on the play after not hearing the formation call from special teams coach Michael Jones until just before the snap.
“Coach Jones called Sharks, which means we’re coming after it, but we didn’t hear the play,” Tutson said. “Lez and I stacked at the last minute and their guy picked up on me, so Lez just slipped right through. After he blocked it, I shed off my guy and I tripped but I saw the ball in the air and went to get it when it hit the ground.”
Tutson said that’s the first time he’s ever returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. However, what he did right after halftime was something that’s been a common occurrence during his football career.
College Station’s Anthony Tisdell Jr. returned the second-half kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and a 24-7 Cougars lead. At that point Temple needed a big spark to get back into contention, and it was Tutson the kickoff returner who provided it.
He caught the ball at his 6, carved through a series of would-be tacklers and eluded the last couple of defenders with quick-shifting moves before racing in for a 94-yard touchdown and a 24-14 game.
“I knew I was going to take one back for sure that night, but I didn’t know it was going to be that play,” said Tutson, who credited senior wide receivers Mikal Harrison-Pilot and Pharrell Hemphill for throwing key blocks on his TD return. “Coach Jones always gives me that confidence and our special teams were blocking good that night.”
Asked how many kickoffs he’s returned for touchdowns since he began playing tackle football at age 6, Tutson said, “Probably around 30. I’ve had a lot.”
Stewart said Tutson’s combination of speed, moves and no-fear attitude makes him an ideal weapon to handle the Wildcats’ kickoff returns.
“That’s who he is. I’m sure they’re out there in the ethos, but I haven’t coached a whole lot of sophomores who’ll hit it like that,” Stewart said. “Kickoff return is a different breed. Punt returners and kickoff returners are often not the same guy. There’s got to be a mental toughness (to return kickoffs).
“You’ve got to trust your vision and you’ve got to trust your teammates, because the higher you go in level – and at our level 6A varsity football is as good as it gets – those gaps and creases don’t stay open very long. As a punt returner you can kind of create some of those, but not on kickoff returns.”
Tutson’s third touchdown against College Station was an 18-yard reception from Rumfield with 51 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, trimming the Cougars’ winning margin to 10.
After College Station had expanded its lead to 38-28 with 8½ minutes left, Tutson had an opportunity to make a play that could have gotten Temple closer. From the Wildcats’ 28, Rumfield fired a deep post pass for Tutson along the right hash. He had at least a step on his defender but tried to adjust to the ball and was unable to bring it in for what would have been a huge gain or possibly even a touchdown.
“I had one dropped ball,” Tutson said. “I think if I would’ve caught that I would’ve scored.”
“It was coming right at him and he faded away from it instead of just playing it into his body. He faded too far over his head, but a week from now he makes that catch,” Case said. “He’s the kid who right now (is saying), ‘If I make a mistake, I’m not doing it again.’ He’s going to fix it. He’s very coachable right now.”
Tutson, Stewart and Case all agreed that Tutson will increase his overall effectiveness by becoming a better blocker.
“The wideouts, I think we could have blocked more (against College Station) and we would’ve had more running opportunities if we had blocked more,” Tutson said.
“I just need (Tutson) to come along a little bit with his blocking part of it. You go back to being a sophomore, that’s one thing he’ll continue to work on is just getting in front of people,” Case said. “He doesn’t do bad when he gets in front of them. It’s just knowing how to get in front of them.
“I was the receivers coach here for three years and something we really preached was blocking for your teammates to score touchdowns. Mikal has gotten to the point where he loves blocking people. He got the ball targeted to him 19 times the other night, which is the most I’ve ever seen a kid get targeted in one game. But even with him, what are you doing on the other 50 plays? You’ve got 50 other plays where you have a chance to go block somebody.”
With the goal of playing major college football after his Temple career concludes, Tutson said he’s striving to follow the example of Wildcats senior captains such as four-star recruit Harrison-Pilot, Baylor-committed linebacker Taurean York and New Mexico State-committed cornerback/safety Naeten Mitchell.
“(I study) the way they handle their craft and work their craft and always practice their craft,” said Tutson, who stated that his goal this season is to help Temple advance past the third round of the playoffs after two consecutive second-round exits. “They’re just non-stop and they keep working hard, and that levels up to what they’re getting now.”
Asked to project what Tutson might be able to do as a senior that he can’t do currently as a sophomore, Case said it’ll likely be about learning the game’s finer points.
“To be honest, there’s nothing right now that he can’t do physically, so I’m not sure what that is,” Case said. “Mentally he’ll have the full grasp of everything (by his senior season). It’s really the mental game that I think he’ll develop into: ‘How do I attack certain leverages by defenders?’ It’s just the subtleties of playing the position that he’ll develop over time and get better at.”
Sitting in the office right next to Case’s, Temple defensive coordinator Dexter Knox didn’t seem to mind the thought of the versatile Tutson eventually contributing on the other side of the ball as a defensive back. Neither did the Wildcats’ defensive-minded head coach.
“He might be the best cornerback in the program. I mean that wholeheartedly. He’s got great feet,” Stewart said. “So that’ll be something we grow, especially if there’s a matchup concern or if we feel like we need to. He’s got some of the best DB feet I’ve ever seen in a young kid.”
That’s yet another part of Tutson’s long-range potential. There goes that word again.
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