J.T. Tuimoloau, one of top prospects in 2021 recruiting class, picks Ohio State

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra
Five-star defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau of Eastside Catholic (Wash.) chose Ohio State over Oregon, Washington and Southern California.

The biggest Fourth of July boom for Ohio State came hours before the evening's fireworks.

The Buckeyes have won the long recruiting battle for defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau, ranked as the top player in the 2021 recruiting class by 247Sports.com.

Tuimoloau, from Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish, Washington, picked Ohio State over Oregon, Washington and Southern California.

He made the announcement Sunday afternoon on CBS Sports HQ.

"This has been one long and thoughtful voyage," Tuimoloau said. "With that being said, I'm blessed that for the next 3-4 years, I'll be attending The Ohio State University."

Tuimoloau also had been considering Alabama, but he canceled his planned official visit to Tuscaloosa last weekend and eliminated the Crimson Tide from consideration.

Though the 6-4½, 277-pound Tuimoloau is ranked the No. 1 prospect nationally in 247Sports.com’s rankings, he is No. 3 in its composite rankings. He is the Buckeyes' highest-ranked defensive recruit in what's considered the modern recruiting era, starting in 2000. Only quarterback Terrelle Pryor and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. ranked higher.

“He's such a special player that it's almost like you feel like the platitudes are too much,” said 247Sports’ Brandon Huffman, the analyst to whom Tuimoloau spoke almost exclusively during his recruitment. “But then he goes out and backs it up as a player.”

Tuimoloau's recruitment wasthe last major battle of the 2021 cycle. It extended months beyond any other top prospect’s. He intended to take all of his official visits, and that intention didn’t change when the pandemic hit and the NCAA banned recruiting travel. Tuimoloau’s status provided enough leverage to cause programs to have the patience to adhere to his timetable.

When the NCAA lifted its ban on official visits in June, Tuimoloau hit the road. He came to Columbus on June 18, where he was greeted at the airport by Ohio State coaches wearing Polynesian-themed shirts.

"We went out there as a family -- me, mom, dad, my little brother and my uncle," he said. "For it being the first time in Columbus, we didn't know what to expect. But it just felt like home. The people were very genuine, first class. The players, it felt like a brotherhood."

The addition of Tuimoloau strengthens an Ohio State recruiting class that trailed only Alabama for highest-ranked in the country. Tuimoloau joins defensive end Jack Sawyer, who’s ranked as the No. 4 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings.

This is the first time since 2012 that Ohio State has added two five-star defensive linemen in the same class. Nine years ago, the Buckeyes signed Noah Spence (No. 5 overall) and Adolphus Washington (No. 19).

Two years later, then-Ohio State coach Urban Meyer hired longtime Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson, and the success Johnson had in State College recruiting and developing linemen has continued in Columbus. Johnson was considered the key to Tuimoloau’s recruitment.

“He was really the only assistant coach that he consistently said he is a huge reason for me picking that school or looking at that school,” Huffman said.

After his announcement, Tuimoloau confirmed the importance of Johnson in his decision.

"That was big on my list for me and my family, not only being developed as a player but as a person," he said. "I feel that's what coach Johnson has been doing over there and his legacy with linemen, I feel that may happen (with me)."

Now that he’s a Buckeye, Tuimoloau will try to make up for lost time. Sawyer and most of Ohio State’s 2021 class enrolled in January. The others arrived about a month ago and have participated in summer workouts.

"He's going to be an instant-impact guy," Huffman said. "That's the kind of ability that he has. The second he steps foot on campus, he's going to get acclimated really quickly to the college offseason strength program. It might only be a shortened amount of time between now and when the season starts or when fall practice starts. But he's got that ability."

Tuimoloau is the latest in a recent pipeline from the state of Washington for the Buckeyes. Wide receiver-turned tight end Gee Scott Jr. was a teammate of Tuimiloau at Eastside Catholic. Emeka Egbuka, a five-star 2021 receiver, is also from the Seattle area.

Tuimiloau, Sawyer and Egbuka are joined by running back TreVeyon Henderson, quarterback Kyle McCord and offensive lineman Donovan Jackson as five-star recruits in OSU's 2021 class. All are ranked in the top 27 of overall prospects. Only Alabama has as many five-star players in the top 30 in the 2021 class.

Tuimoloau didn't say exactly when he will arrive in Columbus.

"I'm pretty sure we'll be out there soon," he said. "For now, I'll just be training and meeting (virtually) with them every day. I'll keep my head down, stay humble and stay close to God."

Brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch