The leadup to defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau’s freshman season at Ohio State was cramped.
His prolonged recruitment, a result of the coronavirus pandemic, made for a late arrival last summer. After holding off on a commitment until the Fourth of July, he enrolled only a couple of weeks before the start of preseason training camp.
But this has been a traditional offseason of preparation with spring practice and strength and conditioning workouts following his debut.
“It just feels great to have a full season and everything under your belt,” Tuimoloau said.
Will J.T. Tuimoloau become breakout star with Ohio State football?
The routine has left him in position to emerge as a potential breakout star on the Buckeyes’ defensive line.
It’s a leap veteran defensive line coach Larry Johnson sees as a possibility.
Johnson remarked after practice on Tuesday that a lot of promising linemen take their biggest step in development in their second seasons.
“If he continues to move forward,” Johnson said, “he’ll have the chance to do something special down the road.”
Few players on the roster are as talented as Tuimoloau, who was the crown jewel of the Buckeyes’ recruiting class in 2021 and one of the highest-ranked prospects in the nation in the cycle.
Even after stepping foot onto campus later than the rest of his freshman class, he showed glimpses of his potential last fall, finishing with 17 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss, and 2.5 sacks.
“I’ve seen him grow a lot in a lot of areas,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen him mature. I’ve seen a guy who’s gotten much stronger. He’s more flexible. He can bend. He can run. And he’s playing practice really well.”
Tuimoloau dropped nearly 10 pounds before start of 2022 football seaosn
Tuimoloau said he also feels quicker as an edge rusher entering his sophomore season.
A contributing factor was weight loss over the offseason. The 6-foot-4 defensive end said he has dropped nearly 10 pounds. After weighing 276 pounds last August, he’s now down to 267 pounds, a change that has helped boost his speed.
“I feel great,” he said.
To shed the pounds, Tuimoloau went through workout regimens put together by strength and conditioning guru Mickey Marotti and followed meal plans set by team dietitian Kaila Olson.
“I just trusted them and communicated with them every day,” Tuimoloau said. “After that, I didn’t really worry about my weight. It just happened by itself.”
Part of Tuimoloau’s improved quickness off the edge is owed to experience. He said he feels more comfortable with assignments and the pace of the college level. He thought one of his biggest issues as a freshman was overthinking, something that slowed him down reacting as plays would unfold.
“You’ve got to trust yourself,” Tuimoloau said, “trust your instincts, and just go play, have fun.”
'I just have to pay attention to what I have to get better at, what the team needs, what we need to do better as a unit, and go from there'
Tuimoloau’s status as a former five-star recruit invites high expectations.
They are inevitable, as they have been for Zach Harrison who also followed Chase Young and Nick and Joey Bosa as a highly billed pass rusher coming out of high school.
Yet Tuimoloau, meeting with reporters during the final week of preseason training camp, sounded unfazed by the pressure.
He said he maintains a low profile on social media, and if he picks up his phone, it’s to text one of his parents rather than scroll. He tries not to dwell on the expectations, however high for a sophomore leap.
“It’s a blessing for sure,” he said, “but at the same time, I can’t pay attention to those. I just have to pay attention to what I have to get better at, what the team needs, what we need to do better as a unit, and go from there."
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio State defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau feels quicker, comfortable