We continue the Better Know a Buckeye series with its 18th installment in 2018. Here, we profile Tommy Togiai, a defensive lineman from Pocatello, Idaho.
- Size: 6-2/300
- Position: DT
- Hometown: Pocatello, ID
- School: Highland
- 247 Composite: ★★★★
- National Ranking: 55
- Position Ranking: 3 (DT)
- State Ranking: 1 (ID)
- U.S Army All-American
- Polynesian Bowl
Togiai will have an important footnote in Ohio State's recruiting history. He is the second player of Polynesian descent to sign with Ohio State, beat to first by Haskell Garrett in the previous year. He is the first player from Idaho to ever sign a letter of intent to play football for Ohio State. However, it took a lot of work to get Togiai to forgo closer options, prominently Washington, to come to Ohio State. Larry Johnson worked overtime to recruit Togiai to Ohio State and it paid off when Togiai announced his decision on Dec. 12 of last year.
I retell this recruitment below. Thereafter, I provide a scouting report for a defensive tackle who will round out what is likely Ohio State's best-ever defensive tackle haul in any recruiting class. I offer a projection that Togiai, who enrolled in January, will see the field in 2018 and close with some highlight film for the reader to watch at the end of the feature.
Tommy Togiai was a late offer in the 2018 recruiting cycle. Ohio State offered on Feb. 22 of last year and it was hardly his first high-profile offer at that point. USC offered a month earlier. Boise State, Oregon, Washington, and even Michigan had also extended scholarship offers. Togiai seemed like a longshot to join this class.
More Tommy Togiai at 11W
Idaho is not a hotbed of college football talent. The top player in the state in a given recruiting cycle might be a low-to-mid three-star prospect. Yet, that's not why Togiai was a longshot to join this class. Togiai could conceivably be the best high school prospect the state has ever produced but the landing spot for that best of the best from the Gem State is almost always one of the programs that had already offered Togiai before Ohio State. Previous landing spots for some of the best in Idaho in the past few recruiting cycles were Boise State, Oregon, USC, and Washington.
This is mostly a distance argument. College football players like to stay close to home and, given the location, a prospect from Idaho capable of getting major college football offers (ed. we'll be kind to Boise State) is going to select the location closer to home, all things considered. There was another messaging problem for Ohio State. Larry Johnson has been subject of retirement rumors for some time. Togiai was clearly interested in playing for Ohio State if he could play for Larry Johnson. However, Johnson needed to signal he would be around for Togiai to do that.
This belies that there was credible interest from Togiai after receiving the offer in February. It was so serious that Togiai flew on his own dime to Columbus to participate in Friday Night Lights in the summer. His high school coach, who was with Togiai on the trip, recapped the visit to Eleven Warriors.
I know that he was very wowed when he went on his unofficial visit... We were treated so well and given so much access to the staff. As coaches, we had a wonderful time. We drank to Kool-Aid. We loved it. Everything was really top-notch.
The high of the visit convinced Togiai to return again for an official visit. He was in Columbus for Ohio State's showdown with Oklahoma and left so impressed with the atmosphere, loss notwithstanding, that he almost committed on the spot.
However, there were lingering questions. The Larry Johnson retirement rumors were growing a little louder. Learning from Larry Johnson was a major selling point and, should Johnson have indeed announced a retirement after the regular season, it's likely Togiai is in Seattle right now practicing for the Huskies.
Further, Togiai admirably knew a snap decision made after an exciting visit is ultimately that: a snap decision. It would belie his interest in his other programs like USC, Utah, and Washington. All had some superlatives that Ohio State did not have (i.e. distance, Polynesian legacies) and Washington was a serious front-runner as a result through most of his recruitment.
This meant Togiai said he would wait until after he had taken his official visits and let the afterglow from them dissipate. However, it was a coaches' visit from Urban Meyer and Larry Johnson to Pocatello that ultimately forced Togiai's hand.
Tommy Togiai committed to Ohio State on Dec. 12, 2017 as the 18th member of what would become Ohio State's full 2018 recruiting class. He chose Ohio State over USC, Utah, and Washington, among others. Washington was ultimately the main competition.
Because we live in a social media reality, we got to effectively see it as it happened. Tommy Togiai's father posted the announcement and reaction on his Facebook and made the post public, for those of you who want to see how Larry Johnson and Urban Meyer handle these announcements when they get them without advance warning.
The announcement on Twitter was, by contrast, more formal.
Committed Go Buckeyes!!! pic.twitter.com/L5X1YllypA— Tommy Togiai (@Big_Tom71) December 13, 2017
The reasons for the commitment are straightforward. Everything about Ohio State wowed him enough to convince Togiai to forgo the opportunity to play for Washington and travel further to Ohio State. However, this feature would be incomplete without highlighting the important work Larry Johnson had done on this front. Getting on a plane immediately after the Big Ten Championship Game to fly to Idaho to continue recruiting Togiai is a testament to how much he wanted Togiai in the fold.
This recruiting class is a vindication for Larry Johnson, who has done well to produce top talent at Penn State and Ohio State and has mostly done so without getting the top guys he wanted in a recruiting class. Joey Bosa preceded Larry Johnson at Ohio State and Nick Bosa's arrival was more pro forma as a result. Even then, the Bosas are defensive ends and it's the tackle positions that have frustrated Johnson the most on the recruiting trail. Johnson has been politely declined by most of the top tackle prospects he has pursued at Ohio State. The Buckeyes have still done well; it doesn't recruit scrubs. Still, recruiting letdowns gnawed at Larry Johnson for as long as he's been here.
This class was his triumph. It features the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in the country. It sees Antwuan Jackson take his second chance to come to Ohio State. It also features a defensive tackle prospect, Togiai, that Larry Johnson knew he wanted the moment he saw his film.
Togiai's commitment came eight days before he signed with Ohio State. He enrolled in January and even talked about the process with Eleven Warriors.
WHERE HE EXCELS
I'm not sure Togiai was ultimately fair competition in Pocatello and he might be a responsible for a few Gem State parents pulling their boys from organized football.
Togiai is absurdly strong for his age. One of my favorite anecdotes about Togiai was that he asked his parents for a Gold's Gym membership for his 12th birthday. Togiai's father, who is from Samoa and played organized rugby there, was happy to oblige his son's weightlifting pursuits and foray into football. Togiai could squat 595 pounds and can do 32 reps of 225 pounds on the bench. His strength comes from years of practice.
Freshman DT Tommy Togiai crushing the circle drill at the WHAC. pic.twitter.com/Atudw592yR— Eleven Warriors (@11W) March 20, 2018
I'm most impressed how explosive and fast Togiai is and I'm even saying that after weighting Togiai by the level of competition. A guy Togiai's size has to learn to "get skinny" to shoot through gaps to get into the backfield. Togiai shows this ability well.
Watch Togiai's film and it's clear that opposing players and their coaches had no idea what to do with him. He was effectively a Madden create-a-player fantasy for high school football in Idaho. It's hard to parse his film accordingly, but one of my favorite features of his film is that Togiai ultimately knows this. He is quick to discern when he's skunked an offensive guard because that guard is a scrub and Togiai is an All-American and when he's skunked an offensive guard because it's actually a screen play because the offense has no hope of blocking him one-on-one. That awareness is important for a player too absurdly good for the competition.
MUST WORK ON
Every superlative we see on high school film for Togiai should come with the immediate caveat that he is playing the worst competition of any other signee in this class. If he looks like a man among boys, it's because he is.
Beyond that, I don't see a lot of pass rush on his film. I don't see a lot of Togiai taking on a blocker in a clear passing situation. A pass rush is less a priority for a defensive tackle than for a defensive end, but it's going to become a priority for Togiai if he wants to be more well-rounded and if he wants to see the field quicker.
If I had written this feature in January, I'd have pegged this as an automatic redshirt. Antwuan Jackson has important college experience and already used his redshirt at Auburn. Taron Vincent is a five-star No. 1 defensive tackle prospect from a prep factory in Baltimore. Togiai, by contrast, is from Idaho and will have an a rough adjustment even if he enrolled early.
Yet, camp reports from the spring highlight Togiai as probably the most impressive performer. He was the first 2018 signee to lose his black stripe. Further, Ohio State could always use more bodies at defensive tackle, so I'm thinking this might be a case where all three defensive tackle prospects play in 2018.
Here is a compilation of highlights from the sophomore to senior year for Tommy Togiai.