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OSU’s Togiai works his way back

CORVALLIS — The pieces all fell into place to help Noah Togiai get on the football field this season.

Oregon State teammate and fellow tight end Caleb Smith was ill, and Ricky Ortiz made the move from tight end to linebacker. Suddenly, Togiai, a true freshman, was moving quickly up the Beavers’ depth chart.

Togiai, not knowing if this might be a redshirt season for him, learned of Ortiz’s switch six days before the Sept. 19 home game against San Jose State game.

“It was a great feeling,” he said. “At the same time I knew I had to come out and work hard and see if I even get in the game.”

He did, leaving him smiling from ear to ear afterward.

And Togiai nearly had a big catch on his first play while running wide open for the end zone in the first quarter, but quarterback Seth Collins overthrew him.

Though he didn’t come down with the ball, it was still an incredible moment for Togiai, who, just a few months earlier was committed to play basketball at the University of Utah.

Togiai also wanted to play football, another sport in which he was a standout at Hunter High in West Valley City, Utah. But Utes men’s basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak and his staff nixed that idea.

Soon after Gary Andersen took over as Oregon State’s head coach, Togiai received a call inviting him to take a visit. He made the trip and learned he could play both sports after talking with Anderson and men’s basketball coach Wayne Tinkle.

Tinkle spent several years recruiting Togiai, who developed a rivalry with Tinkle’s son Tres, an OSU freshman, through the AAU basketball circuit.

Togiai signed with the Beavers in February with the blessing of his parents, Kaio and Gina. His plan is to join the basketball team after football season.

On Sept. 13, Togiai was ready to meet with Andersen about the possibility of going full time to basketball because it looked as though he could be redshirting in football.

But just a short time before that meeting, Togiai learned from offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin that he would be in the gameplan the following weekend.

“He can run tremendously,” Baldwin said of Togiai last week. “He is so talented as an athlete and can do some things in space that none of our other tight ends can do.”

Togiai had one catch against San Jose State, a 4-yarder in the 35-21 win, and played in last Friday’s 42-24 home loss to Stanford.

Togiai “grew up watching everything Utah” and it was his dream school. But OSU turned out to be a better place than he thought it would be when he made his visit.

Though he’s moving forward, he’s still looking forward to the Beavers’ Oct. 31 game at Utah and the chance to play at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Joining the football program, Togiai did his best to leave an impression on his new coaches.

Every fall, coaching staffs are left with the decision of whether to play or redshirt true freshmen. Togiai was among those who caught the eyes of the coaches.

But he was also left with the difficult task of learning the tight end position.

“It takes a while, for all the motion shifts, all the alignments and what you do,” Baldwin said. “He’s caught on well now, he’s able to play. I feel confident that he’ll line up and there won’t be any misses.”

Togiai says he’s tried to spend as much time as possible learning as much as he can since he’s arrived on campus. He believes the coaches noticed that he was putting in a strong effort to get on the field this fall.

Kellen Clute, a senior tight end, said Togiai was a little light in weight when he joined the program, though that’s to be expected when making the transition from high school football to the college game.

Togiai has since put on about 20 pounds and is closer to 230.

“As far as attacking the physicality of the position as a freshman, he’s done everything you can expect out of a freshman and more. He’s on a good track,” Clute said.