By Patrick Klein
Arizona Daily Wildcat
You might say Reggie Tongue's career turned on a case of northern exposure.
Growing up in Maryland, Tongue, now the free safety for the Oregon State football team, could not get high school coaches to give him a look on the field. That all changed when his mother married an Air Force officer and the family was transferred to Wainright, Alaska.
It was in the last frontier that the 6-foot, 200-pound Tongue made a name for himself. He was named 4A Player of the Year and Gatorade Player of the Year his senior year at Lathrop High School, when he did double duty as a running back and defensive back.
"If I had stayed in Maryland I would not have played because the coaches wouldn't give me the chance," Tongue said. "But when I got up there I got the chance, I don't regret it."
Despite being a standout, Tongue, now a junior, was limited in the number of
schools that looked at him because of the extreme location, and because of the perception that Alaska is not a sports hotbed.
"Only northwest schools recruit up there, and many think that the caliber of athlete up there was not as good as in the lower 48 (states)," Tongue said. "They compare it like Division I and Division II (college football)."
But Oregon State gave him a chance, and Tongue has paid off.
He was tied for 10th in the Pac-10 conference in tackles last year, with 82, along with secondary teammate William Ephraim, and had three interceptions. One of those three was a fourth-quarter pick against Wyoming that went for 29 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in a 20-10 victory.
"He's an excellent player," Beaver head coach Jerry Pettibone said of Tongue. "He is one of the key players on our defense. He's a big kid that can run and is a good tackler."
Tongue has made a career of lashing Wyoming. He made last year's game pale in comparision with this year's efforts. He had 10 tackles and recorded three interceptions, returning two 46 and 36 yards respectively for touchdowns that gave the Beavers a 44-31 win. That performance gave Tongue both Pac-10 and Sports Illustrated defensive player of the week recognition.
"I have no idea what happens when I play Wyoming," Tongue said. "Somebody was on my side that day. A lot of times I was in the wrong spot, but the ballcame right to me. The quarterback was throwing the ball up all day. I'm surprised others didn't get one, somebody was watching out for me."
In a conference known for its passing prowess, Tongue knows that every game presents another opportunity for the secondary to get shredded, or to shine.
"I love playing in the conference," he said. "It tests me, tells me if I belong. If I make the plays it tells me I belong. This is what I've dreamed about all my life, to play against the best in the nation."
Playing against the best in the nation is a far cry from the tundra of Fairbanks, where Tongue had 11 interceptions his senior year to go with 952 yards rushing.
"Playing football in Alaska was different, the season was earlier," Tongue said. "We ended before winter came because you can't play when it's 40 below. One game, it was 15 degrees at kickoff and it started to snow. You couldn't feel your hands or toes. It warmed up to 30 and felt like summer."
Despite the tongue-in-cheek comments you would expect with his name, the free safety said all the kidding has long since stopped.
"My nickname is Igloo, because I'm from Alaska," he said. "I used to get teased in preschool, kids would yell my name and stick their tongues out, but no one teases me here."
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