J.T. Tuimoloau’s recruitment is over. The five-star defensive lineman is finally a Buckeye.
Tuimoloau’s recruitment has dragged on for months, causing Ohio State fans no end of stress. Most experts predicted that he would eventually join the Buckeyes, but until a player signs their letter of intent, there’s always a chance something goes wrong.
But Ohio State can finally rest knowing that they landed the top-four recruit in the country. Bringing in Tuimoloau involved more drama than most recruiting situations, even for most top players. But Larry Johnson was able to bring in another in his long list of elite defensive linemen in college football.
The decision came down to his hometown team Washington, west coast schools USC and Oregon, and Ohio State. Tuimoloau’s high school campus was less than 20 miles from the Huskies’, so the longer his recruitment dragged on the more Buckeye fans feared he would stay close to home.
But at four o’clock on Independence Day, he made his own declaration. Tuimoloau’s recruitment was finally over, as he announced he would join “The” Ohio State University.
J.T. Tuimoloau’s Long Recruitment
The Tuimoloau saga started all the way back in January 2020. His recruitment started early in his high school career, but he seemed to favor the Buckeyes after his junior season. He planned to visit Columbus in March of 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, taking college football along with it.
Football found a way to adapt, and kept trying to recruit players virtually. Ohio State still managed to sign 21 of the 22 players they pursued during the early signing period in December of 2020. Even Tuimoloau’s teammate from Eastside Catholic, Emeka Egbuka, didn’t let the pandemic get in the way of his recruitment.
Then National Signing Day approached, and the Buckeyes’ fanbase hoped that Tuimoloau would make his decision then. National Signing Day ended without a commitment from the Washington lineman.
The Spring Game approached, and many early enrollees participated. Egbuka and defensive lineman Jack Sawyer shone in the game, highlighting the potential of the 2021 recruiting class. How great could this class be if Egbuka could get his friend to join Sawyer on the defensive line?
Visits Make The Difference
The first positive break for Ohio State came when the NCAA ended their dead period. Tuimoloau was finally allowed to make his official visits.
This is what he had been waiting for. Before he would make a major life decision, he wanted to see the campus where he would spend the next three or four years. He finally had the opportunity.
Tuimoloau started his visits with his hometown team. He then scheduled visits to USC, then Ohio State, then Oregon, and finally Alabama.
Some feared that Alabama would suddenly emerge as his favorite, which Alabama has the uncanny ability to do. The Crimson Tide had already taken in former Ohio State receiver Jameson Williams and snatched transfer linebacker Henry To’oto’o.
His visit to Columbus was scheduled for June 18th, and Ryan Day new he had to make a statement.
The Buckeye coaching staff decided to meet Tuimoloau and his family at John Glenn International Airport in Columbus. Johnson, the Buckeyes’ defensive line coach, assistant head coach, and Tuimoloau’s primary recruiter, waited at the terminal in a scarlet-colored Hawaiian shirt. Other members of the coaching staff wore identical Hawaiian shirts or Ohio State jerseys with number 33 on them, Tuimoloau’s number in high school.
A day later, Sawyer added some fuel to the fire. The incoming freshman wore number 33 in the Spring Game, but the day after Tuimoloau’s visit, he posted a photo of himself on Instagram wearing number 40. Countless fans speculated if Sawyer knew something that the rest of us didn’t.
After Tuimoloau’s visit to Oregon, he cancelled his trip to Alabama. This was all that Ohio State fans needed. He wouldn’t make his decision for another week, but it was clear. Day and the Buckeye coaching staff had snagged him while he was on campus.
Coach Johnson Does It Again
What made the biggest impact on Tuimoloau during his visit? Mostly, it was Johnson and his experience with coaching defensive linemen.
“It’s kind of hard to put it in words,” Tuimoloau said to 247Sports. “But he’s the kind of get who gets you there to where you want to be. He talks with you about all of the little things, he sees things you don’t see and breaks them down. There is a reason why you see a lot of his players in the league making a name for themselves. That guy is just real.”
Tuimoloau is set to join Johnson alongside several other players who are primed for success. Haskell Garrett, Zach Harrison, and Tyreke Smith are poised for a big year in 2021, thanks, in part, to Johnson’s coaching.
“We have so many dudes on that defensive line, so many great players,” said Tuimoloau. “And he’s coached and developed so many of them himself.”
Even Sawyer played a part in landing Tuimoloau. Sawyer sits one spot below Tuimoloau in both national and position rankings, according to 247Sports.
“Going out there, and just seeing Columbus and all of the players and all that the school has to offer really did it for me,” said Tuimoloau. “Getting to meet Jack Sawyer and getting to play with him in college, we have a lot of respect for each other.”
Sawyer and Tuimoloau are two of the crown jewels of the 2021 recruiting class. With Tuimoloau’s commitment, Ohio State has now landed five of the top ten recruits in the nation.
Now that Tuimoloau’s recruitment is resolved, Ohio State could focus on the 2022 class. The Buckeyes only had to wait one day before their next commitment from next years’ class.
Main image courtesy CBS Sports