Ohio State freshman defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau lost his black stripe following Saturday’s scrimmage, which marked just the 10th practice of his college career.
It made him the third-fastest player to have his stripe removed in a tradition that dates back to the arrival of former head coach Urban Meyer in 2011, trailing only fellow defensive end Jack Sawyer and wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who lost theirs following the ninth practice of spring practice in April.
“He came to town in great shape,” defensive line coach Larry Johnson said of Tuimoloau, who only committed to the Buckeyes on July 4 and then arrived on campus later that month. “You don’t get to where he’s going unless you’re in great shape.
“He’s got a really high football IQ, so he really understands the football game. He’s a video guy. He’s a study guy. That’s why he’s starting to advance so fast because he’s got some things that you have to have if you want to be an elite player. But his work ethic is off the charts.”
That work ethic and overall attention to detail are some of the things that stood out to Johnson during his pursuit of Tuimoloau. It’s also why he wasn’t surprised that the former five-star prospect from Sammamish (Wash.) Eastside Catholic took his time with the recruiting process and made sure to visit all four of his finalists before making his college decision.
Through it all, Johnson remained patient. He knew the Buckeyes offered the best path for development on and off the field. Then again, nothing could prepare Johnson for the moment when he received a text from Tuimoloau in early July, asking him if he could call in 20 minutes.
“I set up on the steps like a little kid waiting for this phone call,” Johnson said with a laugh. “To me, it’s that one line when they go, ‘Well coach, we’ve made our mind up and decided what we’re going to do.’ I was about ready to pass out because you don’t know where this is going to go now. I don’t want bad news. All of a sudden, he said, ‘Hey coach, I’m going to be a Buckeye.’
“I think I screamed so loud (my wife) came running out the door saying, ‘You all right? You all right? You all right?’ I said, ‘We got J.T.’ I was pretty excited and they were, too.”
In the month and a half since, Johnson’s excitement has turned into determination. He knows Tuimoloau has all of the tools to develop into Ohio State’s next great defensive end, but he also understands that it’s not something that will happen without both of them putting in the time and effort.
“Just like all of the great players (before him), it’s a process. It’s not just going to happen overnight,” Johnson said. “Everything J.T. and Jack are doing, they’re learning for the first time. That’s going to take time to figure out. You just have to hold tight and watch and see how they develop as we go forward.”
“I hope he can (be an impact player). He’s certainly going to have to chose to do that. Right now, it’s how fast he can learn our defense, moving forward playing the scheme. And then playing a fast pace. People don’t understand that when you come from high school, it’s not as fast as they think until you hit the college campus. Now, getting him up to speed, he’s certainly working at it.
“It’s a nice dream, but it’s one day at a time. You have to get them to the bus, they have to stay healthy and it’s a process to get that done.”
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