At long last, Ohio State gets chance to host prized prospect J.T. Tuimoloau
His peers have all made their choices and begun to settle into college life.
J.T. Tuimoloau chose a different path, one that finally brings him to Columbus this weekend.
Tuimoloau, a defensive end from Sammamish, Washington, is the No. 1 overall player in 247Sports.com’s 2021 recruiting rankings and No. 3 in its composite rankings. He has yet to make his college choice.
Tuimoloau decided to put off his decision until he was able to make official visits to all five schools on his final list: Ohio State, Alabama, Washington, Oregon and Southern California. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the NCAA to ban visits for more than a year, finally allowing them starting June 1.
Though other prospects made decisions without taking all of their planned official visits, Tuimoloau stuck to his plan.
Though analysts believe Ohio State is a slight favorite, it's considered way too close to call.
What J.T. Tuimoloau would mean to Ohio State's recruiting class
To gain a player of Tuimoloau’s stature would be a giant cherry on top of what has been an outstanding 2021 recruiting class for Ohio State. The prospect of teaming Tuimoloau with Pickerington’s Jack Sawyer, the No. 4 overall player, as fellow defensive ends would be tantalizing, to put it mildly.
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How athletic is Tuimoloau? Brandon Huffman, national recruiting editor for 247Sports, said that if Tuimoloau wanted to play on offense, he’d be the top-ranked tight end prospect in the country.
“I think he's a potential difference-maker,” said Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s national director of recruiting. “He’s so disruptive.”
At 6 feet 5 and at least 270 pounds, he’s bulkier than Sawyer and capable of playing tackle as well as end. Luginbill said he could become the type of player that offensive coordinators must orient their blocking to try to contain him.
The Seattle area has been fertile recruiting ground for Ohio State lately. Tuimoloau was teammates at Eastside Catholic High School with Buckeyes wide receiver-turned-tight end Gee Scott Jr. Freshman receiver Emeka Egbuka is also from the area. Those connections should help Ohio State’s cause.
But the Buckeyes’ biggest selling point is defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who has a well-earned reputation for recruiting and developing elite defensive ends.
“Basically, he’s the biggest reason that they're in it,” Huffman said.
Huffman lives five minutes from Tuimoloau and is close with his family, which has kept the recruiting process mostly private. Huffman has Tuimoloau headed to Ohio State in his crystal-ball prediction, but with the lowest possible confidence rating.
Where does J.T. Tuimoloau visit next?
Tuimoloau’s Ohio State visit will be followed by his final one next week to Alabama. The timing of the visits has caused much consternation among non-Crimson Tide fans. Coaches always want to have the final visit, and Nick Saban is as effective as a closer as he is on the sidelines.
“It's significant because you never want Nick Saban to get a kid on campus for a visit, let alone be the last person that he talks to face to face if you're any of those schools,” Huffman said.
Luginbill said that getting the last visit in this case might not be as crucial. It’s not as if Tuimoloau faces an imminent deadline to decide, and he has already shown he won't be rushed.
“Is everybody always jockeying to be the last coach in the home or get the last visit? Of course,” Luginbill said. “But it comes down to the kid. Is the kid mature enough to go home to Washington, sit down, chill out, understand he's still in control of the process, talk to his family, and not make a knee-jerk reaction? Because that's the best way for an Ohio State and USC and others, if you're not the last one, to stay in it.”
'It'll be like the Vatican with the smoke”
Huffman said that Tuimoloau is that kind of kid. He describes him as mature and intelligent and committed to finishing the recruiting process the way it’s been planned.
“One of the funny things I did read was like, ‘If he goes to Tuscaloosa, he ain't ever leaving,’” Huffman said. “I can guarantee you they will get on a plane flight back from Birmingham to Seattle. And you won't hear anything (right away from Tuimoloau). It'll be like the Vatican with the smoke.”
As talented as Tuimoloau is, he will have significant catching up to do. Other 2021 recruits are already on campus, some for almost six months. They have gotten used to college life, on and off the field.
Luginbill said that adjustment is often underappreciated. For all of their athletic gifts, they are teenagers moving away from home for the first time, yet are expected to excel immediately on the field.
“They're bombarded with academics, social acclimation, a rigid schedule,” he said. “Are you mature enough to manage your time and be where you're supposed to be when you're supposed to be?
“You’ve got studying, you’ve got training table, you've got treatment, you've got meetings, you've got class. You've got all of this stuff going on, and your head is swimming. Yet at the same time, you're expected to be this great player.”
In Tuimoloau’s case, that adjustment period will be compressed. He will arrive two months before the season starts.
But tempering those expectations for Tuimoloau is an issue Ohio State would love to have.
HBCU matchup to be played at Ohio Stadium.