Tommy Togiai will never forget the smiles he saw from Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski when he received the news Saturday shortly after he was drafted.
Togiai, the defensive tackle from Ohio State, was coming to Cleveland. The Browns drafted him in the fourth round (132nd overall) and gave Togiai a chance to take his football roots up Interstate 71.
"You're a Cleveland Brown," Stefanski told him when Togiai picked up. He needed to hold the phone closer to his ear to hear his new coach — his family couldn't stop hollering behind him. "You just have to drive two hours up the road. We're excited to have you up here."
In Cleveland, Togiai hopes to be the same bully he became in his final season with the Buckeyes, when he recorded three sacks, 4.5 tackles for a loss in seven games and solidified his status as a player worthy of an NFL draft pick.
The Browns made that dream come true for Togiai.
"Just to be able to talk to the higher ups who are part of the organization is just a blessing," he said. "To be in Ohio and see the excitement they had in choosing me, I am just so blessed and grateful for them picking me."
Togiai will be staying in the state he's called home since 2018 when he played his first college season, but in Idaho — where he was raised — he remains one of the most promising football prospects in the history of the state.
He was named the 2017 Gatorade Idaho Player of the Year after he registered 93 tackles, 11 sacks and two forced fumbles to lead Highland High School to the state championship. He departed the school as a four-star recruit and received offers from Utah, USC, Oregon and Washington State, but the lure of joining the Buckeyes was strong enough to push him east.
"When I first made that decision to go to Ohio State, there are two NFL teams in Ohio so there was a possibility of that, but I never knew that this would happen," he said. "I'm excited just to get back to Ohio and get back to work."
Check out the best photos of the draft in Cleveland by the Browns photo team
Togiai is one of the best when it comes to the "work." Specifically, the work in the weight room.
Shortly after he was drafted, videos of him reaching 40 reps with the 225-pound bench press from Ohio State's pro day began circulating on social media. He finished nine reps short of tying the all-time Scouting Combine record of Stephen Paea in 2011, but he still possessed one of the strongest upper-bodies of all 2021 draft prospects.
One of his biggest tasks ahead will be translating that strength to the NFL trenches.
"I take big pride in that, just being able to be strong on the field and not letting O-linemen be able to move me," he said. "I take pride in that, being able to move my ground, push the line of scrimmage back and make plays in the backfield."
Togiai will look to prove that when he enters a competition for starting snaps in the interior defensive line, a group that contains four new players and is currently set to have new starters at each position.
In addition to Togiai, Jordan Elliott, Malik Jackson and Andrew Billings, who opted out of his first season with the Browns in 2020, will enter training camp as the top candidates. Malik McDowell, Sheldon Day, Damion Square and Marvin Wilson will also be in the competition and could secure a roster spot with a strong training camp.
Whoever wins the battle will be wedged between two Pro Bowl edge rushers in Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. The entire defensive line can benefit and learn from both players, and Togiai can't wait to see how they could improve his game.
"Just to be able to go in and learn from them, pick up tips from them and be able to play with them maybe side by side, it's just really exciting," he said. "I'm blessed with this opportunity to be able to learn from them, pick up anything I can and try to soak in all the information I can from them."
The opportunity for a fourth-round pick couldn't be much bigger, and Togiai won't have to go far to chase it.
"I love the state of Ohio," he said with a smile minutes after seeing the excitement from Browns personnel in drafting him. "And now, I am going to go to another (Ohio) city in Cleveland. I'm just really excited to get to work and get up there."