CLEVELAND — Walking into The Shoe for the first time, Tommy Togiai felt the energy. Ohioans gathered together, dressed head-to-toe in scarlet and gray, cheering on the Buckeyes. It made the Idaho native feel at home.
"A memory I'll never forget is just my first game playing at Ohio State as a freshman. Just being able to play in that first game, I was so nervous, just all those emotions going through me," Togiai said. "But as soon as I hit the field, my first play, I'll never forget that feeling, going to that stadium, in front of the fans."
Togiai (pronounced toe-ghee-eye with a hard g) impressed at Ohio State, showing athletic versatility over his college career that would be noticed by a front office in a city just a few hours north of his adopted home in Columbus.
On Saturday during the 2021 NFL Draft, general manager Andrew Berry and the Cleveland Browns were busy adding defensive pieces to the roster, from cornerback Greg Newsome II to linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. But the defensive line's interior still needed to be addressed.
The defensive tackle, selected by the Browns with the No. 132 overall pick, will shed the scarlet and gray for an earthier brown and orange fit, looking to fill the holes left in Cleveland by the losses of Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson in free agency.
With his strength (he notched 40 reps at 225 on the bench press at his Pro Day, nine short of tying the record) and his agility (he did well on his three-cone drill and showed speedy feet with the Buckeyes each year), Togiai was a well-rounded package for the Browns.
"You can never have enough defensive lineman," said Browns director of player personnel Dan Saganey after drafting Togiai. "Always looking for quick, twitchy, explosive guys, and we think he fits that."
"Quick" is a key word for the Browns this season, alongside "versatile," as the team focused heavily on improving the speed on both sides of the ball. Togiai, with his agility and strength, sees the future of NFL defenses and is excited to be a part of it all.
"I think that's the way the defenses in the NFL are moving towards more versatile speed guys, guys that can move and play multiple positions," Togiai said. "I think that's why a lot of coaches, they're moving that way towards their defenses, just to have athletic guys to be able to play multiple positions and be able to bring that speed, because ultimately, at the end of the day, that's what the offense is going with, speed. So that's why you need to counter that with speed on the defensive side of the ball as well."
Togiai, like Saganey, also thinks he fits in well specifically with the Browns defensive scheme led by defensive coordinator Joe Woods, and he's no stranger to it.
Like it was destined to be, Togiai was watching film on the Browns defense a year before his selection.
"I've watched a lot of Browns film recently and then also even last year," Togiai said. "I'm really familiar with the defense, their physical defense, they love to attack. I think it's kind of similar to what we did at Ohio State, just that kind of attack defense, getting in the backfield, blitzing and all that kind of stuff. So I'm really excited just to be able to fit in where I can and be able to just make plays."
Making plays is something the Browns are looking at Togiai to do, mostly against the run, where he excels, but also with hopes he can continue developing his pass rushing ability. That's something Togiai hopes he can learn from one player in specific—and it shouldn't be hard to guess who.
"Myles Garrett, I mean that guy—you see what he did last season. Just an amazing season. And just to be able to learn, just to pick up his habits with what he's doing before the game, before practices and stuff like that," Togiai said excitedly. "Just try to soak it all in, anything I could pick up."
In the AFC North, which is loaded with physical runners, Togiai could be a staple to the defensive front, aiming to penetrate through the opposition's offensive line and stop the run before it has a chance to begin. Excited to get to work with defensive line coach Chris Kiffin, Togiai said he's already preparing to evolve his game and do whatever his new team needs him to do.
"That's what I've been working on this offseason and what I'll probably work on even more when I get there, just really in pass rush, using my hands better and also just improving areas in the run game, even though that might be one of my stronger areas, but still always improving." Togiai said. "I'm ready to step up in ways I can just to be able to help the team. I know that's why they're bringing me in, to be able to help with the run game and also in the pass rush. So it's just exciting to be able to learn from them and be able to try to contribute to help to stop the run."
While he's looking to show his versatility, Togiai isn't only trying to impress for himself. In a way, he's doing it for his fellow Buckeyes—hoping to be part of a trend of a new pipeline from the Buckeyes to the Browns—something that has been extremely rare over the past 20-plus years.
Togiai is just the second Buckeye on the Browns roster. Since their return in 1999, the Browns have only drafted four players out of Ohio State including Togiai: tight end Darnell Sanders in 2002, wide receiver Brian Robiskie in 2009 and Denzel Ward in 2018.
The following schools currently have a greater representation among Browns players: LSU, Alabama and Miami (Fla.), which are traditional powerhouse programs, as well as less powerhouse-y schools such as Northwestern and Kansas State.
The defensive end said he's aware that the Browns don't typically find themselves selecting Buckeyes, which makes it even more special to land in Cleveland.
"I know the Browns fans would probably love to have more Buckeyes on the team. That was one thing I've heard of. I know Denzel's the only other Buckeye that's on there currently. Hopefully this will pave the way, maybe some more Buckeyes will join me next year," he said.
In just a few short years of making Ohio his new home, Togiai has developed a fondness for the state and for the energy the fans bring.
"I love my time that I spent in Ohio, in Columbus, with Ohio State. I love the fans and I know a lot of Buckeye fans are Cleveland fans, so to be able to translate those fans over and even make new fans that are Cleveland Browns fans and just really excited to get to know more about the fans and be able to play in front of them and feel that environment," Togiai said.
From one electric atmosphere to another, Togiai will soon feel the energy of the Dawg Pound, and he's ready to shift from Buckeye to Brown and make a name for himself up north.
"I will give them everything I got, going to give Cleveland everything I got and help this team in any way I can," Togiai said. "I'm just really excited to get to work."
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.