RIGBY – When coach Armando Gonzalez arrived in Rigby three years ago, the goal was to push the football program toward becoming a 5A state title contender.
Players might not have realized it at the time, but that was always the purpose behind those hard practices and the attention to detail and fundamentals.
Of course it helps when your foundational player is listed at 6-foot-7, 295 pounds and has a pedigree that includes a father who played in the NFL and a cousin, Highland graduate Tommy Togiai, who currently plays at Ohio State.
“Knowing dad played in the NFL, I had expectations of growing up and being a football player,” said Trojans’ lineman Tanoa Togiai, noting reality took over when he was a sophomore.
“At first I struggled,” he said. “I was expected to go to college, but at the beginning of my high school career, I was questioning myself.”
That started to change last season, Gonzalez said.
Togiai’s size and athleticism made him a good player. But working on technique, learning the ins and outs of being a good lineman, and eventually thriving in a defensive scheme designed to take advantage of his skills, have made the senior one of the top recruits in the state.
Not coincidentally, the Trojans are now in position to challenge for that 5A state title. Rigby beat conference powerhouse Highland during the regular season and knocked off Upper Valley rival Madison on the way the 5A District 5-6 title and earned a playoff berth and first-round bye.
The Trojans host Eagle tonight at 7 p.m. in the state quarterfinals.
“Playing at the 5A level and making it to a state championship, they’ve all been talking about that since they came into high school,” Gonzalez said. “And now they actually have an opportunity to do that. It’s not often in your life you dream about something and you actually have the opportunity to do it. I think this team has the opportunity to do it.”
Togiai’s emergence has been impressive and hasn’t gone unnoticed. He’s made recruiting visits to Utah and Kansas State (his father’s alma mater), and said he has 11 offers from Power 5 Division I colleges, including UCLA, Colorado, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Virginia.
But for now the focus is on the playoffs. After a season-opening loss to Coeur d’Alene, the Trojans (7-1) have won seven straight and are riding a wave of confidence, Gonzalez said.
The Trojans missed the playoffs last season, but are playing well down the stretch this year. Togiai’s presence usually frees up the defense as offensive lines double or triple him on most plays. Rigby counters by moving Togiai around the line of scrimmage and forcing the opponent to adjust.
It’s a cat-and-mouse game that usually ends up in Rigby’s favor.
This week Togiai’s role could be magnified. Eagle has speedy receivers and has had success throwing the ball. Rigby will likely have to put pressure on the quarterback.
“They’re probably the most athletic team we’ve faced,” Gonzalez said.
Togiai said he expects to line up more campus visits once the season is over and will sign in February. He said it would be nice to stay close to home, but won’t rule out any schools or moving across the country.
“It’s been awesome,” he said of the recruiting process. “It makes you feel special and lets you know that you have a future.”