Defensive tackle Tommy Togiai was the first member of the 2018 freshman class to have his black stripe removed. Through his outstanding play, he had the stripe removed, which meant that he was officially an Ohio State Buckeye.
It is a rite of passage that all OSU football freshmen go through, but the fact that it happened in the spring also meant that he was very different than most freshmen.
Black stripes aren’t expected to be removed in the spring. Those aren’t fair expectations. In fact, black stripes can last well into the season, and even beyond.
For Togiai to do it in the spring is a pretty good indicator of a strong future for the rising sophomore.
Even more amazingly, Togiai had his struggles in the spring, but was able to not just overcome them, but also to continue growing and impressing.
Much of it was thanks to the most significant lesson he was taught by defensive line coach Larry Johnson last year.
“For me, it was during spring ball, I was struggling with the plays and he told me to just go out there and go as hard I can without thinking about the plays,” Togiai said. “And ever since then, things started clicking for me. I think that was the thing. It was mental. Him telling me not to worry about messing up. Just go as hard as I can.”
Togiai’s understanding of the defense and his role in it grew throughout the season, but that lesson stuck with him. As he learned more and more from Johnson, his skill set grew.
He played in 12 games last season, finishing with 10 tackles and two tackles for loss. The 10 tackles were the most of any freshman Buckeye defenders, as were the tackles for loss.
There is no doubting Togiai’s talent, but he also credits his coaches and teammates for getting him to where he is today.
“Coach J is my guy,” he said. “He has improved me a great amount. From getting my get off right, to my feet and footwork, just everything. I think BB Landers and Davon Hamilton have helped me. When I first got here I was playing three-tech, but then I got moved to nose guard. So those two for sure helped me get to where I’m at today. Even outside of football too, they’re really great leaders for me.”
A year ago, Tommy Togiai was a high school senior in Pocatello, Idaho. He and his family were hosting coaches throughout the winter. Fast-forward to the present day and Togiai emerged as a key member of Ohio State’s defensive line rotation as a true freshman. Given his start in the spring, nobody should be surprised.
“I always dreamed about it, but to really go out there and perform and actually do it, it’s been amazing,” he said. “It’s all a tribute to [Larry Johnson] teaching me through the offseason and the summer, and my teammates as well teaching me.”
When Togiai committed to Ohio State on one of those in-home visits, Johnson and Urban Meyer were literally jumping for joy. They understood what kind of person and player had just chosen to become a Buckeye.
And after getting to coach him for an entire year now, Larry Johnson is trying to prepare people for what they are going to see in year two.
“Tommy is probably one of the strongest guys on the squad,” he said. “He’s got great leverage, great feet, great hands. Very explosive. When you see him go, you’ll be surprised all of the speed that he has. He can run.”