Birds Undrafted Rookie Tight End Finally Catching Breaks
Under the most adverse circumstances, Noah Togiai has parlayed untimely setbacks into resilient prosperity. The reward for his perseverance could be a spot on the 53-man roster of the Philadelphia Eagles, which suddenly seems very feasible for the rookie free agent tight end.
A dual-sport sensation in football and basketball for Hunter High School in West Valley City, Utah, Togiai totaled nearly 1,500 receiving yards for his career and was branded a three-star basketball prospect by ESPN.
Despite a leg injury that tainted his senior season, Togiai was billed as the nation’s No. 39 tight end by Scout.com and committed to Oregon State in February 2015.
Though Togiai arrived on campus as a slender, 6-foot-4, 200-pound prospect, the offensive brain trust envisioned a clear-cut plan to exploit his unique skill-set.
“There was talk of him going to outside linebacker as a true freshman,” recalled Oregon State tight ends coach Brian Wozniak. “That’s mainly why we played him, because the offense wanted to be selfish and hold onto him. Even at 200 pounds, he was more than a threat – especially in the passing game.”
By the end of his freshman year, Togiai surrendered his love for basketball and fully committed to the gridiron, but he understood that prolonged success could only come with an altered physique. A healthier diet and diligence in the weight room helped Togiai blossomed into a 246-pound specimen, just one example of his dedication to reaching his potential.
On the heels of a promising freshman season, Togiai suffered a season-ending knee injury on the opening kickoff of the second game of his sophomore campaign, but he responded by hauling in 34 receptions for 461 yards and two touchdowns the following season, earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors.
The embattled tight end then labored through an ankle injury for much of 2017, catching just 10 passes for 77 yards and three touchdowns. Although he lacked a prominent role in the Beavers’ aerial attack, Togiai salvaged the season by expanding and refining other elements of his game.
“The one hiccup with Noah throughout his college career was injuries – he was pretty banged up,” Wozniak said. “He didn’t end up helping us until about our first or second conference game. He didn’t catch a ton of balls that season, but one thing he did, is he made himself into a pretty dang good blocker – especially being banged up in that right ankle. He showed he had a ton of potential and just needed to get healthy.”
Healthy and poised for a strong finish entering 2019, Togiai triggered elevated expectations when his name appeared on the watch list for the John Mackey Award, given to the nation's top collegiate tight end. He finished third on the team with 44 catches for 406 yards and three touchdowns.
For Wozniak, there were specific snapshots from that season that assured him that his understudy was primed for the next level.
“There was one time in training camp, which we got into a lot of 12-personnel sets during practice. We would split him out – he’d be the No. 2 or No. 1 receiver, whatever it may be – and he didn’t look any different than our receivers – almost better," Wozniak said. "Then there’s times where his run blocking was taken to a whole new level. It was almost to the point where it was clinic tape after clinic tape in preseason, that I could pull up his run fits and say, ‘This is how I want it done.’"
"Then, you get into the season. There was one against UCLA – he caught a 2-yard flat route, coverage was collapsing on him quick – and he just threw him out of the way. He just literally took him with one arm, threw him out of the way and gained another 12 yards, and I was like, ‘That guy’s different.’” If you missed the play, here it is:
And here's another clip showing an added dimension to Togiai's athleticism:
Compared to his other Oregon State teammates, Togiai generated moderate interest from NFL teams during the pre-draft process. Still, the consensus was that there was little doubt he'd have an offer from some team by the end of the weekend.
“As we got into that seventh-round, I was kind of was picking his brain, seeing what he’s feeling and who he liked,” Wozniak recalled. “Philly was always up there and highly talked about by him, so I think it was just a good fit.”
Per a league source, Togiai also drew interest from the 49ers and Cardinals but chose the Eagles, going on instincts.
While the tight end room in Philadelphia was top-heavy with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, Togiai saw an opportunity to earn a roster spot as the No. 3. The condensed offseason complicated his battle, as most rookies need to maximize every rep between to impress the coaching staff.
The battle between Togiai, Josh Perkins (who can also play receiver), Caleb Wilson and newly-signed Tyrone Swoopes will run its course in a matter of weeks, but Togiai has seemingly emerged as the leader in the race. On Sunday, Eagles coach Doug Pederson singled out Togiai as one of the more impressive young players at camp. "I think Noah at tight end has done an outstanding job," Pederson said. "He's a smart kid. Picked up the offense extremely well. He's learning the ins and outs of technique and just maybe how big and fast a defensive end like BG [Brandon Graham] might be or Vinny Curry, guys like that ... that he's going against, so he's doing a really nice job there." One week earlier, Pederson had called Togiai a "bright addition" to the team.
Togiai’s winding path has been marred with countless roadblocks and detours, yet he stands on the doorstep of fulfilling his NFL dream. Seems it's always been that way for Togiai.
“Growing up in a Polynesian family – he’s one of four brothers and has a sister as well – his dad’s tough," Wozniak said. "It’s just one of those cultures that it’s going to be a fight-or-flight right away and he learned how to fight. "He has a younger brother, so he got beat up a lot growing up, which is great. That’s kind of what you want in a football player. You want the young one that kind of gets thrown around a little bit, and then once he grows up, he’s extremely tough.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a contributor to InsideTheBirds.com. He also writes for Pro Football Network. Listen to the latest "Inside The Birds" podcast here: