It was the first black stripe ripped from its dome-home during Ohio State’s spring football practice. And it foreshadowed Tommy Togiai’s ability to break away from the bench and into the defensive line rotation right away as a true freshman.
The former U.S. Army All-American and early-enrollee from the heralded 2018 signing class cracked the box score in 11 of Ohio State’s first 13 games — which most recently included Togiai’s insertion into the Big Ten Championship romp past Northwestern, which saw Togiai notch a big-time tackle-for-loss of four yards.
Togiai had only one thing on his mind: The upperclassmen who had paved the way and established the standard.
“I mean, it’s amazing. The seniors really paved the way the whole season with their leadership, for the young guys especially,” said Togiai, a 6-foot-2, 302-pounder from Pocatello, Idaho. “Carrying us along and showing us the way on how to really get things done.”
When retiring coach Urban Meyer in spring discussed Togiai, Meyer mentioned a player who had displayed an almost-instantaneous knack to show up as an advanced arrival who should have been finishing high school.
“He just did everything right; it’s hard,” Meyer told reporters of Togiai in spring camp. “It’s something we don’t take lightly.
“He’s got a wonderful family, all the way from Idaho, to come this far away and to be the first black-stripe guy is a heck of an honor.”
Funny, Togiai points to spring camp — not for the rite of passage for all Buckeyes rookies that includes the eventual stripe removal — and a conversation with highly regarded defensive line coach Larry Johnson as his personal turning point.
“It was probably during spring ball when Coach J pulled me aside one time and saw I was kind of messing up the plays and stuff, but he just told me to go out and play as hard as I can,” Togiai said. “It kind of just made things start clicking for me in my mind. Like, I don’t have to worry too much about the plays.
“Just go do it and play as hard as I can.”
Already in a growing role, Togiai now officially is in position to potentially begin carving a starting role in 2019 with Dre’Mont Jones’ announcing he is forgoing his final season in Columbus for the NFL Draft.
“I think it’s crucial,” Togiai, with appearances in 11 games and nine total tackles, said of bowl preparations being a personal springboard. “Especially just to really learn from all the old guys before they leave, and really break down the time that we have. To try to use that time that we have to our advantage and to try to get better.”
And now that Togiai’s experienced a Big Ten title, he has gleaned a better understanding of the expectation around the Ohio State program — even as a new era dawns.
“You could see it on their faces, in their emotions and it meant everything to them,” Togiai said. You could see that. For me to be a part of that, it’s just awesome. It shows the standard.”
Pretty well-said for a guy who first shed his stripe and now has been earning them.