During the 2021 cycle, Mario Cristobal hauled in more talent than the program had ever seen in a single year. The trademark of the class was its depth, boasting an unbelievable 19 4-star prospects according to the 247Sports composite.
On offense, the class has a 3-headed monster of borderline 5-stars and top 40 prospects in Ty Thompson, Kingsley Suamataia, and Troy Franklin. Thompson and Suamataia are the highest-rated quarterback and offensive lineman Oregon has ever signed, while Franklin is the second highest-rated wide receiver to step foot on campus (behind only Cameron Colvin).
The only thing missing by some fans’ estimation is a true defensive headliner. The 2019 cycle had Kayvon Thibodeaux and Mykael Wright. The 2020 cycle had Justin Flowe, Noah Sewell, and Dontae Manning.
So what has happened in JT Tuimoloau’s recruitment so far?
Tuimoloau debuted as the top-ranked player in the nation when 247Sports first released its composite for the 2021 class all the way back in August of 2018. Since then, attention from around the country has been on the Sammamish, Washington product.
Unlike many top recruits, Tuimoloau has tended to avoid the spotlight. He doesn’t have a big presence on social media and he’s only given a handful of interviews. For this reason, direct information on his recruitment has been tough to come by.
The timeline of his recruitment has also been unique. While most blue-chip prospects in the 2021 class were making their decisions official during the early signing period in December, Tuimoloau was just getting around to releasing his top 5. The list included Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, Washington, and USC.
The three schools getting the most buzz were Ohio State, Alabama, and Oregon. Oregon because of Cristobal’s recruiting prowess and their proximity on the West Coast. Alabama because, well, it’s Alabama - they’ve won national titles and developed players at a higher level than anyone else during the Nick Saban era. And Ohio State has held the 247Sports crystal ball lead for over a year.
As winter turned to spring, rumors continued to spread that Tuimoloau may be leaning towards this school or that school. Everyone had a different take on why he continued to delay his decision, and each fan base has tried to spin the circumstances in their program’s favor.
What has become clear, is that Tuimoloau and his family are intent on visiting his finalists in person and were willing to wait until NCAA restrictions were lifted to do it. Recently, news broke that the dead period will end on June 1 and official visits will finally be allowed again, a story which Max Torres wrote more about here.
Finally, there’s the most recent news: JT Tuimoloau was on campus in Eugene, and inside Autzen Stadium for Oregon’s spring practice on Saturday. The practice was open to a limited number of fans as well as the media.
This is a clear win for the Ducks, as there were plenty of things vying for Tuimoloau’s attention (and presence) on Saturday, including a public practice at Washington and spring games at both Ohio State and Alabama. At the very least, this visit solidifies Oregon as a real contender for Tuimoloau’s commitment.
That said, with NCAA restrictions still being in effect, Tuimoloau wasn’t able to contact coaches during the trip. He still got to observe practice in Autzen, walk around the campus, and most importantly get an early look at Tim DeRuyter’s new defense.
But it remains crucial that Tuimoloau and his family make a return trip to Oregon to meet with the staff in person come June.
So what should Duck fans make of these developments?
Let me first say this. The thing that everyone should understand is that JT Tuimoloau is a unique player and a unique person. All indications suggest that most of Tuimoloau’s focus this spring has been on competing in his football and basketball seasons and completing his high school career the right way.
That’s what he has prioritized over being an early enrollee, and he’s earned every right to do so because of the talent and skills he’s developed. You only get to be a high school athlete once.
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In my opinion, this recruitment has essentially been on pause for quite a while now. Of course, Tuimoloau has continued evaluating his options during this period, but until recently he hasn’t had much new information, in the form of visits, to influence his decision. People can debate over which program has the slight lead right now, but because direct information has been so scarce I’m not convinced that anyone really knows, and that’s why predictions on either side have been relatively low confidence.
Here’s what we do know: JT Tuimoloau wants to take his visits to evaluate his options. For me, this tells us that no program has separated itself enough to gain a commitment yet. That’s good news for the Ducks because they will have their shot.
Ultimately, this recruitment is going to come down to a short period where a bunch of factors will converge at the same time. Tuimoloau and his family will finally see his finalists in person and they’ll have to determine which is the best fit.
All the Ducks can do is make their best case.
Here are Oregon's five best pitches to land the top remaining prospect on the board.
1. Oregon needs to make the case that the Ducks are on the verge of becoming a top-tier college football program. This can’t be a situation where the Pac-12, and Oregon by extension, is perceived as a “minor league” product. What helps the Ducks' case is their loaded upcoming non-conference schedule, with games against Ohio State and Georgia over the next two seasons.
2. Tuimoloau needs to feel that he’s not sacrificing his dream of becoming a top 10 NFL Draft pick by going to Oregon. The Ducks can sell him on NFL development: just look at defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner and the successful careers they're having in the NFL.
More importantly, this staff will want to highlight the job it's doing developing and featuring Kayvon Thibodeaux, who of course was also a top prospect on the out of high school. He's a projected top NFL Draft pick following his junior season.
3. The Ducks have to leverage their unique situation in terms of distance. Similar to the recruitments of other top West Coast talent we've seen, the Ducks sit in what I like to call the “goldilocks” zone of distance. Tuimoloau gets to leave his backyard and experience something new, while also being close enough for his family to easily visit and watch his games.
4. Once Oregon has argued they can provide a comparable product to Ohio State and Alabama, the Ducks need to show what makes them different. The Oregon brand, the facilities, the Polynesian community, the Ohana uniforms, a basketball scholarship. Simply put, what can Tuimoloau do at Oregon that he can’t do anywhere else?
5. Finally, just let Mario work his magic. Oregon has a track record of hitting home runs on official visits (KT in 2018) and this is another opportunity to do just that. Great recruiters are great closers, and this is a chance for Cristobal to bolster his reputation as one of the best in the business.
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