Noah Togiai caught a pass at the 11-yard line and turned upfield. When he saw Arizona State cornerback Jack Jones in his path, he knew what to do.
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At 6-foot-4, Togiai had been dominating Jones, 5-foot-11, all game. On one play, the Oregon State tight end threw the DB to the ground. During another, he simply ran over him.
This time, Jones squared up to make a stop as the only defender in Togiai’s way … and that’s when it happened.
Togiai, a former standout high school basketball player, jumped over Jones, cleared the ASU player and landed on his feet.
“I had about five more yards to the end zone and I knew I had to make it,” Togiai recently told NJ Advance Media. “I got [hit] at the goal line, by the pylon.”
Brian Wozniak, Oregon State’s tight ends coach, was on the opposite side of the field, but he immediately knew his protégé had made a big play because of the roar of the crowd.
“I hear the (offensive coordinator) say, ‘Oh gosh!’ and I have no idea what’s going on, and then I hear the huge roar,” Wozniak said. “He hurdled the guy for the touchdown.”
Togiai had never hurdled a defender before, but his work with the ball in the air wasn’t out of the norm. Togiai played basketball and football at Oregon State as a freshman, and while he stuck with football throughout his college career, the Eagles’ rookie tight end always will be a shooting guard at heart.
“Honestly, coming out of high school, I was strictly a basketball player,” Togiai said. “I only thought about basketball. Football was not on my mind to play at the next level.”
A surprise turn
Togiai gets teased by family and friends for how much he admires Portland Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony.
However, like Anthony, Togiai gained a reputation for being able to take over games offensively at Hunter High School. Coach Robb Collins says Togiai was so athletically gifted that he could turn the tide of a game in a matter of minutes.
“We’d be down 10, and the next thing I know, he’d have 10 straight points and a couple of dunks,” Collins told NJ Advance Media. “He just had a second gear that couldn’t be matched at our level.”
While Collins had players receive scholarship offers from schools like Boise State and Utah State in the past, he is adamant that Togiai was on a different level than anyone he’s coached at the high school level.
“He’s the best athlete in Utah that I’ve ever coached,” Collins said.
Togiai was recruited by schools like Utah, Utah State and Oregon State to play basketball. Utah State eventually offered him the opportunity to play both football and basketball, and Oregon State followed suit.
His decision came down to Utah and Oregon State. Togiai said his instincts, at least partially, played into his decision to choose the Beavers.
“There were lots of deciding factors,” Togiai said. “Very tough choice, but in the end, it was just a gut feeling the night before signing day and I went with it.”
Togiai weighed just 197 pounds when he arrived at Oregon State. While he played high school football for three years, his entire workout regime revolved around basketball.
“I laughed at him when he walked through the door,” Wozniak said. “I just told him to get his butt in the weight room.”
After gaining 40 pounds during his freshman year, Togiai’s body was no longer built for basketball. The two-sport schedule was also impacting his health and classwork.
He had to choose one sport before he lost both due to poor grades and exhaustion. He picked football.
“To this day, a lot of people are surprised I play football,” Togiai said. “Basketball, for me, I believe will always be my first (favorite) sport, but football has done well for me so far.”
The right choice
Togiai caught 102 passes for 1,048 yards and 10 touchdowns during his college football career. While he wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, he did a run a 4.69-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, according to NFL Media’s Tom Pelissero.
Togiai went undrafted in April but drew the interest of several teams once the selection process concluded. He chose the Eagles because of the opportunity to compete with and learn from the likes of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.
Although he has barely been able to talk to his veteran teammates this offseason due to the coronavirus pandemic, he has learned from Ertz and Goedert while listening to them in virtual meetings with coaches.
“My mindset is to come in and take in everything I can,” Togiai said. “Obviously, there are two great tight ends who have been there. Obviously, Zach has done it for eight or nine years and he’s one of the best in the league, Dallas is doing what he does, and I just want to learn from the best.”
Togiai is the Eagles’ only newcomer at the tight end position this offseason, and he will only need to outplay journeyman Josh Perkins to secure a spot on the 53-man roster.
While he isn’t guaranteed a job, he’s glad he took the gamble of choosing football over basketball because it’s given him a legitimate shot at a career beyond college.
“Somehow, I ended up playing football instead of basketball, which still surprises me to this day,” Togiai said, “but I’m happy with the way it’s gone.”
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