You’d be hard-pressed to name a college football program that has produced more NFL quality defensive linemen than Ohio State as of late. From top-end prospects to late-round gems, the Buckeyes seem to have it all on a yearly basis.
One of their top prospects in this year’s draft is defensive tackle Tommy Togiai, who heads to the NFL after playing the best football of his young career in 2020.
Togiai recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his Ohio State experience, why he’ll never forget his 2020 performance against Penn State, and what it’s like to grow up in Pocatello, Idaho.
JM: You were actually the first player from the state of Idaho to ever play at Ohio State. That’s pretty cool. What was life like growing up in Pocatello, Idaho?
TT: It was good. I just kept to my family and a few close friends, really. I grew up in a small area. I started playing football at a young age. My older siblings played sports and I just wanted to follow in their footsteps. Life was good. It was quiet. We grew up in a small area. I went to one of the bigger high schools in my area so I would have a better chance of getting recruited. That was the idea.
JM: I imagine that Pocatello is a very small town and that everybody back home is rooting for you right now.
TT: I definitely wouldn’t describe Pocatello as being big. Especially when you compare it to Columbus (laughs).
JM: You must have been somewhat shocked when you got to Columbus for the first time.
TT: I was definitely shocked at first. It has such a different feel. There are so many more people in Columbus (laughs). The lay of the land also surprised me. Everything is flat. I was used to mountains and whatnot.
JM: That’s hilarious. You went to a bigger high school with your eyes firmly set on your recruitment and your plan worked. You were a consensus 4-star recruit. You get to Ohio State and you’re not going to play right away. I imagine you knew what you signed up for. You’re stuck behind a bunch of elite defensive linemen. How did you handle that and did it ever frustrate you?
TT: I knew what I signed up for. That was actually one of the reasons I chose Ohio State. I wanted to challenge myself. I welcomed the opportunity to work alongside the elite talent we’ve had over the years. I wanted that challenge.
I knew I would sit behind those guys the first couple of years. I just took that time and used it to my advantage. I took notes and learned from those guys. I knew my chance to be a starter would eventually come.
JM: And that’s exactly what you did. You put the work in and you got better every year. How do you reflect on the 2020 season?
TT: It was a special year for me. What I went through my first two years, I really grinded and took that time to become a better football player every year. I learned from the guys that were in front of me. That’s why I’m at where I’m at today.
JM: You waited patiently to record your first sack in an Ohio State uniform. They came in bunches as you recorded three sacks in the Penn State game this past season. What was it like being in the zone for that game?
TT: That Penn State game is special every year. Coach [Larry] Johnson used to coach over there. The D-line is always especially fired up for that one (laughs). Coach Johnson takes that game differently. He prepares for that game differently. Going into that game, the entire D-line was uber-focused. Coach Johnson always wants to put on a show for that game (laughs). I tried to go out there and play as hard as I could for him.
JM: And you have the results to show it. Speaking of coach Johnson, what did the staff at Ohio State ask of you within the scheme of their defense?
TT: My job was to stop the run and rush the passer on obvious passing downs. My main task was to stop the run and take up double teams so my teammates can get a clear path to the ball and go make plays.
JM: What’s it like to play for coaches like Ryan Day and Kerry Coombs?
TT: It’s awesome. Coach Day is the most inspiring coach I’ve ever played for. The way he approaches the game of football, I would describe him as a player’s coach. I’m so thankful to him for everything he’s done for me.
With coach Coombs, you know he’s going to bring that energy every single day. You’ll never catch him low on energy at practice. He’s such a high-energy guy. He brings it every single day. He approaches practice the way he approaches a game.
I loved playing for both of those guys.
JM: What’s your favorite part of playing on the defensive line?
TT: There’s a rush that comes with it. Everything starts right there in the trenches. Every play basically starts with us. We’re the first line of defense. That’s why I love playing down there. We’re the first ones that get a chance to make a play in the backfield.
JM: Do you think you’re more developed as a pass rusher or as a run stopper at this point in time?
TT: I’d have to say I’m more developed as a run stopper. I think I got better as a pass rusher every year. That’s an area of my game that should continue to get better.
JM: You mentioned that your coaches tasked you with stopping the run and taking up double teams. It’s selfless work. It doesn’t capture the headlines.
TT: Taking up double teams doesn’t always show up on that stat sheet. That’s what my job looked like. I was asked to eat up double teams to free up the linebackers behind me so they can come down there and make the tackles. As long as I was doing that and we were making plays, I was fine with it. I enjoyed it even. If I’m helping the team make plays, I’m making the team better and that’s the ultimate goal at the end of the day.
JM: You must feel like you have some untapped potential as a pass rusher.
TT: Yeah, I definitely do. That’s one area of my game that’s still improving. I’m getting better and better at it. I just need to be put in those scenarios. I haven’t reached my ceiling as a pass rusher yet. I can continue to get better.
JM: Who were some of the best offensive linemen you went up against throughout your time at Ohio State?
TT: I’ve always looked at offensive linemen more as a unit than as individuals. A lot of the Big Ten schools had good offensive linemen. Wisconsin probably stuck out as the best one in my opinion.
JM: If you could sack one NFL quarterback, or record your first career tackle for loss on any running back, who would you choose?
TT: As far as sacks go, names like Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers come to mind. Those are the big-name guys. I’d love to get a sack on one of those guys.
As far as a TFL goes, probably Dalvin Cook or Derrick Henry. Any of the top guys in the league would be great. I want that challenge. I wanna go up against the best of the best.
JM: If you could pick the brain of any current NFL defender, who would you choose and why?
TT: I’d probably say Fletcher Cox or Aaron Donald. I’d love to see what their offseason program looks like. I’d love to know how they approach the run game. I’d ask them their thoughts on how to best rush the passer. I’d ask about the little things like hand usage, get-off, and how they tweak their stances.
JM: Those are two great choices. I’ve really appreciated your time today, Tommy. In closing, what kind of impact is Tommy Togiai going to make at the next level?
TT: I’m going to bring a lot of energy with me. I’m gonna bring a physical aspect to the defensive line room. I’ve been taught how to do the little things at a high level. I’m a very physical player. I’m gonna play as hard as I can on each and every snap.