There is no bigger story remaining in the 2021 recruiting cycle than J.T. Tuimoloau.
The No. 2 strong-side defensive end and No. 3 overall player per 247Sports Composite remains the top unsigned player heading into National Signing Day. It’s not unusual, though certainly less common, for top-flight recruits to wait this long to sign; the advent of the early signing period has granted high school players the ability to end their recruitment as early as December, meaning prospects who wait till now are still mulling their options.
But the blue-chip recruit out of Sammamish, Wash., is taking it to the next level: He won’t sign on National Signing Day. In fact, it will be some time before he makes his final decision official.
Why is Tuimoloau waiting so long to sign? Essentially, he wants to make sure the school he chooses is a perfect fit for him — something he couldn’t do with the recruiting and visiting restrictions necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s everything you need to know about Tuimoloau, from his top programs, projected signing date and the reason he will wait so long to sign:
When will J.T. Tuimoloau sign his NLI?
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Tuimoloau likely won’t sign until at least April. His father, Ponce Faletoi, said as much in a Jan. 28 interview with 247Sports:
“J.T. will not be signing next Wednesday,” Faletoi said. “He won’t be making a decision until at least April. He still wants to take visits. Whether those are officials when the NCAA opens it up, or us going out and checking those schools out, he still wants to visit a few schools.”
That raises the question of why he has waited so long — through his entire, multi-year recruitment — to take visits. The answer: COVID-19 has limited his ability to take official and non-official visits in what should have been his busiest year of recruiting, mileage-wise. That led Tuimoloau to bypass the early signing period in December and instead use the date to announce his top five finalists.
They are, in alphabetical order: Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, USC and Washington.
To date, he has visited four of his finalists’ campuses: Washington multiple times; Alabama and USC as a sophomore; and Oregon as a junior. He has yet to visit Columbus. Faletoi said his son won’t sign until he has visited both Tuscaloosa and Columbus in the coming months. When those visits might occur remains to be seen, but the NCAA-mandated recruiting dead period won’t lift until April 15.
“He wants to get out and see Alabama and Ohio State with us, just so we’re all comfortable,” Faletoi said.
Who is the favorite to sign J.T. Tuimoloau?
Tuimoloau’s official top five may be West Coast-heavy, but Alabama and Ohio State are considered to be firmly entrenched as his top two choices.
The blue-chip prospect remains a priority for both schools, with Alabama’s Nick Saban and defensive line coach Freddie Roach taking over in the late stages of his recruitment. That said, it’s believed Ohio State is the team to beat as Tuimoloau closes in on his signing date. The Buckeyes have a perceived advantage in that they have already signed his friend Emeka Egbuka (No. 9 overall, No. 1 WR).
“You know, you just gotta stay on him heavy,” Egbuka said on Dec. 16 of his attempts to sway Tuimoloau (via 247Sports). “I’ve been calling him, FaceTiming him, since I committed. And you know, we’re good friends, so we joke around about it, make it a good time. But I definitely want him to come play for us, and you know, just help the Buckeyes grow.”
As it stands now, six 247Sports experts have offered predictions for Tuimaloau, with all of them favoring Ohio State as of National Signing Day.