The top overall recruit in the country is supposed to come with certain baggage. Maybe cocky, flamboyant, bigger and better than everyone else and they know it and every recruiting service is telling them the same thing.
J.T. Tuimoloau is different.
That’s why a moment earlier this season, when his Eastside Catholic football team was playing Pinnacle of Arizona, stands out to him so much. He was tasked with rushing off the edge and into Pinnacle offensive lineman Tosh Baker, a Notre Dame commit, throughout the night.
“He told me afterward that I was one of the first defensive ends he played against who wasn’t cocky,” Tuimoloau said. “He said he was expecting me to be talking all game and I wasn’t. I think that was eye opening.
“A lot of people think I’m just supposed to be a cocky, disrespectful person on the field. That’s a big misconception.”
He figures his production, and even just his presence, can do plenty of the talking.
No player haunts opposing offensive coordinators dreams in this state like Tuimoloau, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound junior defensive lineman with basketball athleticism who is the 2019 Star Times defensive football player of the year.
He’s spent more than a year as the No. 1-ranked recruit in the nation for the 2021 class by 247Sports.com, but there’s a difference between having five stars and being an impactful high-school football player.
Last season Tuimoloau got by making plays on his athleticism because not every coach knew exactly what they were up against. Not this year.
“He can do it all,” Eastside Catholic coach Dominic Daste said. “The thing we’ve had to talk to him about is you don’t have to. You don’t have to try to make every single play. We’re scheming for 11 guys. You just need to do your job, take on those double teams to open gaps for others. That’s all we need.”
Tuimoloau spent his offseason determined to refine the technical aspects of his craft. So he and his father, Ponce De Leon, spent hours pouring over videos of the pros.
“What you could see was just how they opened their hips and how it really makes a difference with your moves,” Tuimoloau said. “It really helps when you get redirected, or if you’re trying to slide down it helps you get skinny. And this year I was thrown a lot of chop blocks and that was new for me. So something I talked to my dad about a lot was how to beat a double and a triple and get past those things and not let it take me out of a play.”
Now try being an opposing coach.
“Man, he’s just terrorized our O-line each of the past three years,” Rainier Beach coach Corey Sampson said. “His freshman year (when Rainier Beach went to the Class 3A state title) he was tearing those guys up. It was like, who is this guy? Turns out after the game against us he got a UW offer.
“You try to double-team him, low block him, trap him — he can get through it all. He knows his technique, and he’s fundamentally sound.”
He led Eastside Catholic in tackles during the regular season (45) with four for losses and a team-high eight sacks. Daste has the luxury of being able to play Tuimoloau anywhere in the front seven, if he wishes, and this offseason he even played some safety for his seven-on-seven team. He said many of the colleges recruiting him have differed on where they see him in two years.
But he knows there’s always things to improve on, and after their stunning Week 6 loss to O’Dea, there’s a far bigger mission for Eastside Catholic and his defense in these state playoffs than to worry about all his college offers and impressing recruiters.
“The O’Dea loss was really tough,” Tuimoloau said. “But you just have to watch film and learn from your mistakes. We all made mistakes. So going into the playoffs we just kept telling each other if we mess up, just regroup. Short-term memory. If we keep playing Crusader ball, we’ll be fine.”
2019 Star Times football team, defense
Jalen Dixon, O’Dea
Defensive lineman, 6-2, 255, sr.
He doesn’t have five stars next to his name in his recruiting bio, but there might not be a more disruptive interior presence in the state than Dixon, the Metro League Mountain Division defensive lineman of the year and two-time Star Times selection.
Matulino Masunu, Bellevue
Defensive lineman, 6-1, 270, jr.
Bellevue hasn’t been as explosive on offense as in years past, but it is still plenty tough defensively thanks to Masunu’s havoc in the trenches. One opposing KingCo 2A/3A coach said simply that they couldn’t block him.
Sav’ell Smalls, Kennedy Catholic
Defensive lineman, 6-4, 245, sr.
UW commit gave Lancers the imposing presence defensively they so needed in his return to the school from Garfield. The NPSL defensive lineman of the year has had teams audible away from his side almost every play this season.
Carson Bruener, Redmond
Linebacker, 6-3, 210, sr.
Son of former UW tight end Mark Bruener, legacy commit and KingCo 4A Crown Division defensive MVP was so dominant this year. Averaged 11 tackles a game (had 18.5 in one), and in limited offensive roles he still had 542 all-purpose yards (and was 3-for-3 passing).
Garrett Carney, Eastlake
Linebacker, 6-1, 205, sr.
Simply the heart and soul of Eastlake football. Two-time defensive MVP in the KingCo 4A Crest Division and three-time first-team linebacker had 108 tackles and two interceptions this year because he’s, what coach Don Bartel says, is the dictionary definition of a top linebacker.
Junior Robinson, Lake Stevens
Linebacker, 5-11, 190, sr.
Coach Tom Tri calls Robinson an old-fashioned, sideline-to-sideline thumper, and their best all-around defender for a team with five shutouts. He was one of the state leaders in tackles (133 total and 25 for losses) until suffering a knee injury in the playoffs.
Joby Schneider, Bellevue
Linebacker, 5-10, 180, sr.
Coach Michael Kneip would agree Schneider isn’t the most talented, but he’s one of the state’s best players, regardless, because of his savvy and sideline-to-sideline ability. He’s the KingCo 2A/3A co-defensive player of the year and a first-team running back.
Efton Chism III, Monroe
Defensive back, 5-11, 185, sr.
One opposing coach admitted it didn’t matter that they knew Monroe would continually target Chism, he still made plays. The WesCo 4A first-team pick on offense and defense caught 44 passes for 678 yards and six TDs, picked off two passes and was electric as a returner.
Ayden Hector, Eastside Catholic
Defensive back, 6-1, 195, sr.
Stanford commit might be the best man-to-man cornerback in the state, and his physicality likely comes from his bloodlines. Grandfather, Willie Hector, was a lineman for the L.A. Rams, dad, Zuri Hector, played DB at USC and uncle, Byron Hector, was a DB at Cal.
Kasen Kinchen, Lake Stevens
Defensive back, 5-11, 170, sr.
No better cover cornerback in WesCo 4A the past two seasons, and he doubles as the Vikings’ most reliable playmaker with 50 catches for 1,112 yards and 15 total touchdowns on offense, averaging almost 23 yards per catch.
Cage Schenck, Woodinville
Defensive back, 5-9, 165, sr.
One of the state’s most impactful playmakers, Schenck this year was a KingCo 4A first-team receiver (706 yards, eight TDs), cornerback (34 tackles, three interceptions) and return specialist (three scores). It hasn’t mattered if teams kick it away from him, throw it away from him or double-team him.
Connor Stutz, Bishop Blanchet
Punter, 6-2, 205, sr.
How many can say they’ve punted a ball 100 yards? So what if Stutz benefited from a few friendly bounces, that still counts. The three-time Metro League Mountain Division first-teamer averaged 43 yards per boot and had nine punts inside the 15 yard line.
Coach of the year
Monte Kohler, O’Dea
The 35th-year Fighting Irish coach is the state’s active wins leader with 347 to his resume, including an unbeaten run so far this year, but even he said after their stunning win over nationally ranked Eastside Catholic this year that that one was his best. Hard to argue.