High School Football

College football’s top programs are all chasing this Idaho native

Highland senior defensive tackle Tommy Togiai, left, is one of the most sought-after recruits in the nation.
Highland senior defensive tackle Tommy Togiai, left, is one of the most sought-after recruits in the nation. Idaho State Journal

On an unofficial visit to Ohio State this summer, Highland High’s Tommy Togiai saw all the traditional bells and whistles of a college program.

The Buckeyes dressed him in an Ohio State uniform, showcased their top-flight facilities and even let him slip on head coach Urban Meyer’s three national championship rings.

But Meyer also pulled the 6-foot-3, 290-pound senior defensive tackle aside with an admission: He’d never recruited a player from Idaho before. Togiai ended that streak.

“He said I’ll go wherever I need to go to find the best players,” Highland coach Gino Mariani said, “and you’re definitely that in Idaho.”

The conversation stands as one of many once-in-a-lifetime moments in Togiai’s whirlwind recruitment by the nation’s top college football programs.

The Pocatello native holds scholarship offers from Ohio State, Washington and USC. Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin also have extended offers from the Big Ten. He has his pick of the litter from West Coast programs, including Boise State. And the consensus four-star recruit will play in the 2018 Army All-American Bowl on national television in January.

Togiai returns to Columbus, Ohio, this weekend for his official visit as No. 2 Ohio State hosts No. 5 Oklahoma at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. But Togiai has other visits planned, and Mariani said he isn’t revealing anything yet.

“He keeps his decision-making close to the vest,” Mariani said. “He doesn’t come out and say too much. … I’ll say, ‘Are you leaning anywhere?’ And he’ll say, ‘No, not really.’ He’s kind of hard to read that way.”

Idaho typically remains an afterthought for major college football programs. But the state’s class of 2018 includes a pair of four-star national recruits — Togiai and Coeur d’Alene quarterback Colson Yankoff, who is committed to Washington. Scout.com ranks both of them among the top 100 players in the nation.

Many Idaho natives need to travel to summer camp after summer camp outside of the state just to get noticed by college programs along the West Coast. But Togiai jumped onto the national scene the old fashioned way — on film.

Mariani said as programs recruited former Highland defensive tackle Wayne Kirby (now with BYU), coaches immediately began asking about the dominating force playing next to him. Mariani informed them that was Togiai, and he was just a sophomore.

“Togiai is a big tackle but has defensive end/outside linebacker athleticism,” Scout.com National Recruiting Director Brandon Huffman said in an email. “He’s not a bad-bodied 290. He’s an athletic and well put-together 290. (He’s) quick off the ball with tremendous strength, yet could still add more weight.”

Born at 12 pounds, Togiai has always stood out. His mother, Jodi, began carrying his birth certificate in seventh grade to prove his age for club basketball tournaments.

Togiai played last season at 325 pounds and earned first-team All-Idaho honors for the second year in a row. But Mariani said he’s slimmed down in the offseason, making Togiai even more of a wrecking ball for opposing offensive lines.

“The word I think of when watching him is he just disrupts,” said Capital coach Todd Simis, whose team was scheduled to host Highland on Friday but had to cancel due to poor air quality. “It’s hard to explain how one guy on a team of 11 can disrupt what you’re trying to do.”

Togiai, who couldn’t be reached for this story, developed a love affair with the weight room early. The only present he requested for his 12th birthday was a membership to Gold’s Gym.

That passion extends to the football field, where players with his size and skill often can dominate at half speed. But Mariani said he never cruises. The force of nature that plays from sideline to sideline — as a defensive tackle — showcases that motor every day at practice.

“I get tired watching it every day at practice,” Mariani joked. “So it’s kind of fun to go out and watch other teams try to deal with him, because I know we don’t deal well with him.”

Michael Lycklama: 208-377-6424, @MichaelLycklama