Despite late arrival, J.T. Tuimoloau making early impact on Ohio State defensive line

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State's J.T. Tuimoloau has received an increasing amount of playing time as the season has gone along, including against Rutgers where he brought down Scarlet Knights quarterback Cole Snyder.

Few players have arrived at Ohio State with as big a name as J.T. Tuimoloau.

But it turns out that many have added an extra letter when referring to him. The freshman defensive end from suburban Seattle doesn’t want to be called “JTT,” but simply “J.T.”

“Jaylahn is my real name,” he said. “That’s where J.T. comes from. There’s no extra ‘T.’ I want to clear that up.”

He said this with a smile, a frequent sight during his first interview as a Buckeye.

Tuimoloau (pronounced Too-ee-MO-lo-ow) was the final member of Ohio State’s 2021 recruiting class and the highest-ranked — unless you count quarterback Quinn Ewers, who was in the 2022 class before enrolling in August.

Most players in the 2021 class signed in December. Tuimoloau’s recruitment didn’t end until July. His family wanted him to take all five permitted official visits, and his stature was such that schools were willing to abide by his timeline.

Because Tuimoloau wasn't on campus for winter conditioning, spring practice or most of summer workouts, the expectation was that he wouldn’t make a significant impact early in the season.

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But Tuimoloau has played on 147 snaps, mostly in the last three games, including a start against Akron. Some of that increased playing time has come because the line has been without injured veterans. But he has also earned it.

“When you think about a five-star guy, you think about speed, athleticism, size,” fellow freshman defensive end Jack Sawyer said. “He’s got all that. He checks all the boxes and he’s a good football-IQ guy, too.”

Defensive line coach Larry Johnson has praised Tuimoloau for arriving in excellent physical shape. That and his work ethic have allowed him to make up for lost time.

Tuimoloau said he is surprised that he’s played this much so early.

“Coming in that late, (the goal was) be the best version of myself,” he said. “Always compete, keep your head down, stay humble and stay close to God.”

Tuimoloau’s statistics are modest so far. He has been credited with seven tackles, including one for a loss.

“I think I've played pretty decent,” he said. “Still lots of room for improvement.”

There’s little doubt that will happen. Tuimoloau is 6-foot-4 and weighs 270 after actually losing a few pounds. With his powerful build, he’s capable of playing tackle, though he prefers end.

Ohio State defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau has played on 147 snaps this season. Here he pressures Tulsa quarterback Davis Brin.

Freshman defensive line class looking special for Buckeyes

With Sawyer, who was also a five-star prospect, and the surprising emergence of tackle Tyleik Williams, who has four sacks, the freshman defensive line class already is looking special.

Sawyer made a splash in the spring game when he had four quasi-sacks, but that’s not the same as a real game, especially against the run.

“These guys are strong as hell,” Sawyer said. “That's definitely a big difference (from high school).”

Sawyer has gained about 30 pounds since his arrival in January and now weighs about 260 after working with Mickey Marotti and his strength staff.

“I think the summer was huge for all of us young guys getting stronger because in the run game, you've got to fit stuff,” Sawyer said. “You can't run around blocks and create open lanes for the running back.”

Sawyer said that using proper technique, particularly with his hands, is becoming second nature now.

“I think we all are coming together week by week,” he said. “I think our D-line is going to take off and be something pretty scary here in the next couple of weeks.”

Ohio State has produced an impressive string of defensive ends under Johnson. Tuimoloau and Sawyer give every indication of being the next ones.

“We’ve become very close, and one thing that’s stood out is his hard work,” Tuimoloau said of Sawyer. “He's just always trying to learn, always trying to get more info, and always trying to get better.”

Sawyer repaid the compliment.

“JTT is a great player and I'm excited to have him on the other side with me,” Sawyer said, “and it's going to be a lot of fun here the next couple years.”

Yes, Sawyer referred to his teammate as JTT. Habits sometimes die hard.


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