Could Oregon Have Found Its Next Kayvon Thibodeaux?

Garrett Sharp-Craig Recruiting

After another commanding win last weekend, Oregon’s defense has proven to the rest of the nation that it’s legit. However, due to the constant rotation of players in college football, in order to maintain strong defensive continuity, the coaching staff needs to plan ahead to replace their current superstars whenever they depart. With former number-one overall recruit Kayvon Thibodeaux a potential “three-and-out,” the Ducks may have spotted their next reload candidate in class of 2021 defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau.

Like Thibodeaux, Tuimoloau is a five-star defensive lineman and the number-one overall recruit in his class. JT, like KT, possesses plus athleticism for his size, giving him the ability to pressure the quarterback and make open-field tackles on running backs. Tuimoloau has the athleticism to play tight end and, per 247Sports, could also be a D-1 basketball prospect. Tuimoloau’s talent, like Thibodeaux’s, should translate seamlessly to the collegiate level, making him an immediate contributor.

Tuimoloau is the number-one prospect of 2021.

Tuimoloau is, and Thibodeaux was as a recruit, listed at 6’4.5″ (Thibodeaux is now listed at 6’5″). Tuimoloau, however, is the thicker athlete, weighing 277 versus Thibodeaux’s 239 per 247Sports (now listed at 242). Tuimoloau currently plays predominantly at defensive end, like Thibodeaux, but is projected to move inside to defensive tackle at the collegiate level. 247Sports notes that he “possesses a powerful lower half” that will add mass easily as he matures. Despite the differences, Tuimoloau projects as an “elite-for-elite” replacement for Thibodeaux.

But as much as Mario Cristobal and the rest of the staff are tantalized with Tuimoloau’s talent, every other major program in the nation is just as interested. Let’s take an early look at a name you’ll soon become very familiar with and see where Oregon stands with the best recruit in the class of 2021.

Tuimoloau’s Trip to Oregon

Luckily for the Ducks, due to Tuimoloau’s own high school football schedule, he was able to make the trip down to Eugene last weekend and was even on the field during Oregon’s beat down of Montana. Tuimoloau came down to Oregon not only to visit the Ducks, but additionally, his Eastside Catholic high school team traveled down to Portland to take on Central Catholic.

In the game, Tuimoloau did nothing to diminish his number-one rank, recording three sacks, seven tackles, two pass deflections, a fumble recovery and a blocked punt that resulted in a touchdown. Eastside Catholic dominated in a 44-21 victory.

As you can see in his highlight reel, Tuimoloau already looks stronger and faster than every other player on the field. Although statistically Tuimoloau had an excellent game, when speaking to 247Sports after the game, he admitted he needs to continue to improve:

“Coming out here and having three sacks and six tackles, I was proud of myself, but I know I got to keep it going and doing more.”

Tuimoloau’s humble manner and desire to succeed gives insight into his personality and a commitment to football that echoes Thibodeaux’s. With performances like last week’s and a strong desire to improve, Tuimoloau should continue to make college coaches and recruiters salivate at his potential.

Recruitment Status

For Oregon, signing Tuimoloau would be a massive get for a defensive front seven that already includes freshman studs Thibodeaux and Mase Funa. Keep in mind the Ducks are also and the consensus favorites for 2020 recruit Noah Sewell.

Ideally, Tuimoloau would play defensive tackle, with Thibodeaux manning the weak side defensive end position. The two would compeiment each other excellently, as Thibodeaux is the more natural pass rusher and Tuimoloau the better-suited run stopper. With Funa and Sewell as jumbo ‘backers, Oregon’s defensive front would be stout indeed. Another important note: Oregon may need interior help sooner rather than later with current starters Jordan Scott and Austin Faoliu both set to graduate after the 2020 season.

Despite all the anticipation, Tuimoloau is still just a junior and has plenty of time to make a decision regarding where he will play college football. He already has offers from 22 Division 1 universities, including the likes of Alabama, Ohio State and hometown favorite Washington.

Tuimoloau meets with Alabama coach Nick Saban

The recruiting process is still very new for Tuimoloau, as college coaches only recently were allowed to begin talking with high school juniors. In turn, there has been very minimal information regarding what Tuimoloau is looking for in a University and a football program. However, before his Oregon visit he did mention that he wanted to:

“Check out the facility and also get to learn more about their programs for stuff I’d want to major in and how their academic side is too.” 

It seems Tuimoloau is still just looking to get a feel for each school. Nevertheless, academics may prove to be an important aspect for him moving forward. 247Sports has him as a Washington lean, but that’s primarily based off of proximity and UW being the first to offer him a scholarship. (Don’t worry Duck fans; we are a ways away from crowning him a Husky.)

Does Oregon Have a Shot?

Although it would have been nice for Tuimoloau to experience campus surrounded by students, Autzen was still roaring despite school not being in session, and the Ducks soundly took care of business against Montana.

Tuimoloau’s college decision will most likely not be made anytime soon. However, the impression Oregon made on Tuimoloau should have a lasting impact throughout his recruitment. And the more success the Ducks have throughout the season, the better their chances of signing Tuimoloau.

As of now, Oregon has as good of a chance as anyone to land Tuimoloau.

Garrett Sharp-Craig
Eugene, Oregon                                                                                                                                                               Top Photo From Twitter


Phil Anderson, the Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.

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