COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State’s first-ever scholarship football player from Idaho appears to be a good one.
The Buckeyes landed Pocatello (Idaho) Highland 4-star defensive tackle Tommy Togiai in December, winning a big-time battle over Washington.
To learn what 6-foot-3, 290-pound Togiai can bring to Ohio State as an early enrollee, Land of 10 caught up with Highland coach Gino Mariani.
Q: What traits of his stand out on the football field?
Mariani: He’s probably the strongest player we’ve ever had in our program. He walked in and I think he did 13 reps of 225 pounds as a freshman in high school. By the time he was done, he was doing more than 30 reps. Physically, he was kind of a specimen. His dad would take him every day after school and they’d meet at Gold’s Gym. His dad was a big lifter. Tommy is physically very strong, but with that he has great athletic ability. He’s very agile for his size and weight and has great speed. His senior year he ran a 4.9 [second 40-yard dash]. Physically, he has all the tools. Mentally, he loves football. He was always the first one out on the field and the first one in line to do drills and just absolutely loved being out there.
Q: Was it apparent early on that he could become an elite prospect?
Mariani: We knew he was going to be good. His older brother was in the program at the time. He was a senior when Tommy was a sophomore. I was watching TJ grow and get bigger, and TJ ended up being an Idaho State recruit. We had another D-1 kid that played alongside Tommy when Tommy was a sophomore, and coaches would ask me, ‘Who’s that?’ And it was Tommy.
As they were recruiting Wayne Kirby, they got very interested in Tommy because he made a lot of plays. He just continued to work and get better. Right at the end of his sophomore year going into his junior year he got an offer from Boise State and then Washington jumped out. When that happened I knew we had something special.
Q: How did you see him progress throughout his high school career?
Mariani: Heading into his junior year, he spent a lot of his summer down in Utah. He went to a few camps and spent a lot of time lifting down there. When he came back, he was heavy. He wasn’t fat or anything, but he was probably the heaviest he’d ever been. He was playing at 325 [pounds]. He was still strong as ever, and he was just big and physical. He would take on the double teams and just manhandle people just based on his size. But after basketball season, he got down to about 290 or 295. You could see the speed and quickness of him being able to move. He was about 295 his senior year and still had that strength. He could go through you, he could go around you. He played sideline to sideline and was chasing down screens. To me, that’s when he became the total package.
Q: Is there a play or performance of his that stands out and shows what type of player he is?
Mariani: The very first game we played a team out of Reno, Nevada, and I had a talk with him before the game. I said, ‘Listen, you’re getting recruited. Play like you have a chip on your shoulder and show people what you’re all about. That first game, I think by halftime he had 9 tackles and 2 sacks. It was just an incredible performance. But then as we got through the year and into the playoffs, he made people change their entire schemes with how they had to block. We were bringing him from all different angles where they couldn’t always double- or triple-team him. There were times against some of our in-town teams where the guard, the center and the running back were all blocking him.
Once we got to the playoffs against the Boise teams and the Coeur d’Alene team that was so heralded, they’d never seen a kid like this. They thought they could single block him with their D-1 kid who was going to Air Force or their D-1 kid who was going to Boise State, and he manhandled them. He owned them. When he tackled dudes, you knew he was there. It got to the point where they didn’t want to run up the middle anymore and were changing their game plans. When he played against the kid from Coeur d’Alene [4-star quarterback Colson Yankoff, a Washington signee] in the end, it was touted as the quarterback vs. the defensive tackle, and he beat him. He made the sack to save the game, made the sack right before halftime to make sure they didn’t get any points. He made the plays when he had to make them.
Q: What’s his ceiling at the college level?
Mariani: He’s probably the most college-ready kid I’ve had since Taysom Hill [in 2008]. He’s a kid who because of his strength and physical attributes, physically he’s ready. He’s probably already as strong as some people on that team. Mentally, he gets it. With what [Ohio State defensive line coach] Larry Johnson was able to show him at Friday Night Lights and the way we were able to use it throughout the season, his hips were great, his swim move was awesome. He wasn’t just bull-rushing people and knocking them over.
He played smart. That makes him a weapon. I think right off the bat he’s going to see some time. He definitely has the ability to.
Q: How would you describe his personality?
Mariani: He’s quiet. He’s not a talker. But he’s a kid who is definitely going to show what he can do and who he is through his actions instead of his words. I think he’ll probably open up a little bit more in college. He’s very reserved, and I think that’s just part of his upbringing. But when he gets on the field, he’s a warrior. He’s ready to go.
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