Meet scary strongman Tommy Togiai, Ohio State's next great defensive player
He’s always been the strongest player on the team, players say. He lifts the most and the heaviest in the weight room — for instance, last year, it was reported that he benched 225 pounds 36 times.
And even though he’s flown under the radar somewhat — difficult when you’re 6-2 and 300 pounds — the potential has always been there, teammates and coaches say. Blame his relative anonymity on the fact that he’s from Idaho, where he blew up opposing high school offensive lines and spurned the traditional West Coast powers to come play at Ohio State.
And further blame that anonymity on the depth of the Ohio State defense over the past few years. Only then could the strongest player on the team be relegated to backup duty.
But just wait, his peers said. Just wait until he becomes a starter.
Junior Tommy Togiai arrived on Halloween night against Penn State. In fact, he was downright scary. In his second career start, he got his first career sack. Then he followed it up with two more, and added three more tackles for loss just for good measure. He ended up spending a good portion of the evening in the Nittany Lions backfield, which helped fuel a convincing 38-25 victory.
World, meet Tommy.
Pocatello's Tommy Togiai (@Big_Tom72) is having a great game against Penn State!
The former Highland Ram has two sacks and five tackles for Ohio State at the end of the third quarter.
— Adrian Luevano (@a_luevano) November 1, 2020
This coming-out party didn’t come as a surprise to his peers.
In 2018, Togiai committed to Ohio State over Utah and Washington, becoming the first player ever from Idaho to do so. He was one of the highest-ranked players the state had ever produced (No. 55 nationally, the No. 3 defensive tackle), and earned the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year Award.
The 2018 class was the highest-ranked ever for the Buckeyes, and it was expected that Togiai would step up to become a leader this season. Just when and where that would happen was up for debate.
Because the defensive line was filled with questions leading up to this season (How would they replace the talent that left from 2019? Who would become the leaders?) Togiai was a player who many thought would finally get his chance to shine. He was the only returning player who’d seen consistent backup time at nose tackle (16 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and a pass breakup last year), and he learned behind DaVon Hamilton, who is now a Jacksonville Jaguar. All of this meant there was a pretty good chance Togiai would start as a junior.
Now he’s taking advantage, and Penn State just happened to take the brunt of it.
‘Raise the bar’
Raise the bar. Raise the standard.
That’s what defensive line Coach Larry Johnson says, and it’s become a mantra for Togiai.
Johnson actually predicted this kind of performance would happen — three weeks ago. In an interview with The Lantern newspaper, Johnson praised Hamilton’s tutelage and Togiai’s ability to rush the passer.
“DaVon Hamilton — what he did at nose guard is unheard of. He had seven or eight sacks at the nose guard position; that’s tough to do when you’re getting double-teamed,” Johnson said. “Tommy has the same chance. He’s powerful, he’s strong, he’s athletic. He will have some opportunity to rush the passer. … I’m very confident he has the ability to do that.”
It seems a bit of an understatement now.
‘Ready to step up’
Just like on the offensive side of the ball, where Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson have established themselves as the best one-two wide receiver punch in the nation, Ohio State’s defensive line now as their equivalent in Haskell Garrett and Togiai. Suddenly, a position that was a bit worrisome for fans has quickly become one of strength.
Defensive end Jonathan Cooper said as much after the Penn State win (where he also caused heavy damage with 5 tackles and a half-sack).
“I think they’re amazing,” he said of the defensive line crew, and specifically Togiai. “I think they’re playing the best football of their careers, honestly. With their effort, how focused they are, their leadership and everything in-between. They’ve been doing great. Nothing but good things to say about them.”
For Togiai, the chance to prove his skills has been worth the wait.
“I’m ready to step up to take as many snaps as I need to be able to help our team out,” Togiai told cleveland.com right before the season started. “I’m ready to step up to take that leadership role and be able to contribute.”
And the pressure to live up to the achievements of past defenses is a challenge he welcomes.
“Every year coach (Johnson) always says, ‘Raise the bar. Raise the standard,’ ” Togiai told The Lantern. “So we’re going to get after it this year and try to raise the bar even more.”