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One big prize remains for Ohio State's banner recruiting 2021 recruiting class

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra

Ohio State signed 21 blue-chip football players during the early signing period in December.

Now the Buckeyes are looking for the cherry on top.

Ohio State has the No. 2 recruiting class in the country, behind Alabama, which has locked up the mythical recruiting championship for 2021.

But the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide are dueling for the services of the best unsigned player, defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau from the Seattle area.

Tuimoloau is the 247sports.com composite ranking’s No. 3 overall player in the country, one spot ahead of Pickerington North’s Jack Sawyer, a Buckeyes signee. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson would salivate at the prospect of having Tuimoloau and Sawyer as bookend defensive ends for the next few years.

J.T. Tuimoloau (33) of Eastside Catholic High School in suburban Seattle has not said when he plans to announce his college decision. He is the No. 3 player in the 2021 recruiting class, according to 247sports.com's rankings.

But Tuimoloau is in no hurry to sign. He also plays basketball and wants to play his senior season of hoops at Eastside Catholic High School instead of enrolling early in college.

In fact, there’s a decent chance that Tuimoloau doesn’t even sign on the February signing day, which has mostly become an afterthought since players became allowed to sign in December a few years ago. Tuimoloau might not even sign before April.

“I think the earliest anything would happen would be mid- to late January,” Bucknuts recruiting analyst Bill Kurelic said. “I tend to think it won’t happen that soon."

Both Kurelic and Brandon Huffman, national recruiting editor for 247sports, give Ohio State a slight edge over Alabama for Tuimoloau, who also lists Washington, Oregon and Southern California among his top five.

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The one disadvantage Ohio State has over the others is that, because of the pandemic, Tuimoloau has not visited Columbus. But that also could play in the Buckeyes’ favor. One could surmise the main reason he hasn’t signed is that he wants to see Ohio State firsthand before he’d go elsewhere.

“I think Ohio State’s in a good spot considering where they stand in terms of him never having visited,” Huffman said.

The biggest reason for that is Johnson, who is a master recruiter and has a well-deserved reputation for developing elite prospects.

“He’s well aware of Larry Johnson’s resume and his ability to get him to the next level,” Kurelic said. “That’s a big selling point.”

It doesn’t hurt that Tuimoloau was high school teammates with freshman Ohio State receiver Gee Scott Jr.

Huffman lives in the Seattle area and has followed Tuimoloau’s rise closely.

“He is potentially the best prospect the Northwest has ever produced,” Huffman said of Tuimoloau, who’s listed at 6 feet 4½ and 277 pounds. “He could be a guy that if he was a tight end, he’d be the No. 1 tight end in the country. I’ve seen him play safety. I’ve seen him play inside linebacker, outside linebacker, receiver.

“He’s such a versatile player, but he moves like he’s 230 pounds. The kid didn’t start lifting weights until the day he turned 16, so there’s so much physical upside there.”

Off the field, Huffman said, Tuimoloau is a respectful young man from a good family and has close to a 4.0 grade-point average.

The Buckeyes have their eye on a couple of other unsigned prospects. Linebacker Raesjon Davis of Santa Ana, California, and Virginia offensive tackle Tristan Leigh are in play, but they are considered long shots for Ohio State to sign.

Tuimoloau is the big prize.

“I think it's a great class with or without him, but obviously it is huge,” Kurelic said.

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch

Still deciding 

According to the player rankings from 247sports.com, nine of the top 100 players in the class of 2021 did not sign with a college program in the early recruiting period in December: 

No. 1 overall: Defensive end Korey Foreman, Corona, Calif. (Centennial HS). Considering Southern California, Clemson and Arizona State, among others. 

No. 3: Defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau, Sammanish, Wash. (Eastside HS). Considering Ohio State, Washington and Alabama, among others. 

No. 11: Offensive tackle Tristan Leigh, Fairfax, Va. (Robinson Secondary). Considering Oklahoma, LSU and Ohio State, among others 

No. 16: Inside linebacker Terrence Lewis, Opa Locka, Fla. (Miami Central HS). Considering Tennessee, Maryland and Auburn, among others 

No. 40: Running back LJ Johnson, Cypress, Texas (Cy-Fair HS). Considering Texas, Texas A&M and LSU, among others 

No. 45: Linebacker Raesjon Davis, Santa Ana, Calif. (Mater Dei HS). Considering Southern California, among others 

No. 61: Defensive tackle Tywone Malone, Oradell, N.J. (Bergen Catholic HS). Considering Mississippi, among others. 

No. 77: Cornerback Ceyair Wright, Los Angeles (Loyola HS). Considering Southern California, among others 

No. 79: Receiver Brian Thomas Jr., Walker, La. (Walker HS). Considering LSU and Alabama, among others