There are now two things worth celebrating in college football-crazy Columbus, Ohio on Sunday night – Fourth of July fireworks and the declaration of the nation’s top class-of-2021 football recruit.
It was long believed that Eastside Catholic (Wash.) five-star defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau held Ohio State as the longstanding favorite for his services – and the teenager confirmed that Sunday afternoon by signing with the Buckeyes over Oregon, USC and Washington.
“It just felt like home,” Tuimoloau said on the nationally-televised telecast just minutes after his announcement.
While Tuimoloau’s decision was a feather in the cap in Ohio State’s top-ranked recruiting class, it was also a crushing blow to the Pacific-12 Conference – notably the home-state Huskies. Last winter, five-star Steilacoom (Wash.) wide receiver Emeka Egbuka left high school early to enroll in Columbus in time for the Buckeyes’ spring ball.
Without a doubt, the 6-foot-5, 285-pound Tuimoloau was the biggest prize still available in this recruiting class. He had announced months ago that he intended to make official visits to each of his finalists – and spent much of June on weekend campus trips to UW, USC, Oregon and Ohio State before canceling a scheduled stop at reigning national champion Alabama.
Tuimoloau left an immediate mark on the high school stage in Washington on the gridiron and on the basketball court (Washington and Oregon each offered Tuimoloau in basketball, too).
Corey Sampson, head football coach at Rainier Beach, recalls a freshman Tuimoloau giving his offensive line fits in just the third week of his high school football career.
“He got a USC offer the next day, and we were like ‘who was this guy?’ ” Sampson said. “He was just constantly in the backfield.”
Marcus Ungaro was hired as Eastside Catholic’s defensive coordinator for the condensed spring season after spending seven years on the New Orleans Saints defensive coaching staff.
He, of course, knew of Tuimoloau when he first stepped foot onto campus. What stood out to Ungaro about the blue chip prospect wasn’t just his size and speed, but his football IQ.
“I can put him on the defensive line outside backer, middle backer, shoot, he’s been in practice at corner, just goofing around and locking down some receivers, (catching) interceptions,” Ungaro told SBLive in March. “He’s a gifted athlete, but he understands football, and that’s going to take him a long way.”
Tuimoloau’s arrival in Columbus easily gives Ohio State its best collection of defensive linemen ever in a single recruiting class. The Crusaders’ star has been 247sports.com’s top recruit nationally.
Even with Tuimoloau being ESPN.com’s No. 4 recruit overall, the Buckeyes still locked up the No. 1 guy (in back-to-back years) in that list of 2021 rankings – defensive end Jack Sawyer, of Bickerington, Ohio.
In all, five defensive linemen signed with Ohio State in this recruiting class.
Tuimoloau, the 2020-21 Polyneisian high school national player of the year, was also named SBLive WA’s all-state player of the year – and the Class 3A Senior Male Athlete of the Year for his prowess in football and basketball with the Crusaders.