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Ohio State Defensive End J.T. Tuimoloau Exceeding Personal Expectations As Freshman

Tuimoloau has recorded seven tackles and one tackle for loss in five games, including two starts.

Ohio State freshman defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau didn’t arrive on campus until mid-July, as he waited for the recruiting dead period to come to an end to take his official visits. 

And while those visits ultimately played a key role in his decision to play for the Buckeyes, he also risked falling behind in his development, since the rest of his class had either participated in spring ball or arrived in June in time for summer conditioning.

Understanding that, Tuimoloau stayed in shape by training with Tracy Ford of Ford Sports Performance and former Seattle Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril. He also refused to place any extra expectations on himself heading into his freshman year.

“Coming in that late, (my goal) was just to be the best version of myself, always compete, keep my head down, stay humble and stay close to God,” Tuimoloau said during his media availability on Wednesday evening.

The former five-star prospect from Sammamish (Wash.) Eastside Catholic has played well through the first five games of the season, though, recording seven tackles, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hurry and one pass break up in 146 defensive snaps. That includes starts against Akron and Rutgers, as senior starter Tyreke Smith was unavailable for both games.

“I’m playing pretty decent, but there’s still lots of room for improvement,” Tuimoloau said. “I’ve just got to get better.”

38. J.T. Tuimoloau

Tuimoloau, who was considered the second-best defensive lineman and No. 4 prospect overall in the class of 2021, admitted he was surprised by the speed of the game at the college level. He caught on rather quickly, though, since he has to go up against Ohio State’s offensive line in practice

“The biggest adjustment for me was competing every day,” Tuimoloau said. “We’re going against the best in the Big Ten, best in the nation (in practice), so you have to bring your best every single day.”

Tuimoloau has also benefitted from the guidance of Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson, whose attention to detail and player development played a big part in his college decision.

“When I came in and I started watching film with him, (I saw) how technical he was and fundamentally sound he was,” Tuimoloau said. “The way he’s taught the game to us freshmen so we understand it was very up to par. He holds us to high standards and meeting with him every day and hearing how he talks, it’s just a really a big thing for me.”

Many expected Tuimoloau to end up with the Buckeyes all along given his relationship with sophomore tight end and former high school teammate Gee Scott Jr. and freshman wide receiver Emeka Egbuka. He said that didn’t play a significant role in his decision, though.

“Those are my dudes, but it really didn’t play a big part,” Tuimoloau said. “Knowing that they were on the team was good to know because, when I did get here, I already had dudes I already knew very closely.”

What ultimately sealed the deal was his relationship with Johnson and head coach Ryan Day, who notably wore floral shirts and presented him with a lei upon his arrival in Columbus for his official visit as a nod to his Polynesian ancestry.

“I didn’t expect it,” Tuimoloau said of the greeting. “It was a great experience. I thank Coach Day and them for doing that, but I was very surprised.”

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J.T. Tuimoloau

Looking back on it, Tuimoloau is happy he took his time with his recruitment, which also included official visits to Oregon, USC and Washington – even if he was misunderstood by those who thought he was seeking attention by delaying his decision.

“The one thing my parents told me was, ‘You deserve your five visits to make sure where you want to go,’” Tuimoloau said. “We let the coaches know what we were going to do and they were OK with it. It was a tough decision, for sure. It was one of the biggest decisions you’re going to make in your life, and we took the time as a family, and this is where we decided.”

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