T.J. Tauaalo planned this week to carefully weigh his options in terms of where he wanted to continue his football career.
Those plans changed in a hurry in the last couple of days when North Texas put on what amounted to a full-court press for the Keller Central defensive tackle.
UNT finally put a scholarship offer on the table after recruiting Tauaalo for more than a year. Head coach Dan McCarney called, recruiting coordinator Noah Joseph stayed involved and Kevin Patrick arrived on the scene while waiting to be officially approved as the Mean Green’s new defensive line coach.
The attention UNT gave Tauaalo paid off during a whirlwind Wednesday when Tauaalo committed to play for the Mean Green and then hosted several members of the staff on an in-home visit.
“I was going to make my decision next week,” Tauaalo said. “Then I talked to the new defensive line coach [Patrick] and Mac. That made me jump on quick.”
Patrick, who coached at South Florida and is expected to officially join the Mean Green in the next few days, played a key role in convincing Tauaalo to commit to UNT.
“The new defensive line coach was a big reason and North Texas is closer to home,” Tauaalo said. “He has sent players to the NFL and knows what he is doing. I also liked that the head coach is a defensive line coach. I liked that a lot.”
Tauaalo, who is 6-2 and 290 pounds, was a first-team All-District 4-5A selection and received all-state honorable mention as a senior.
Oral commitments are nonbinding. The first day recruits in the class of 2014 can sign national letters of intent is Feb. 5.
Tauaalo said he chose UNT over offers from UTEP, Utah State, Abilene Christian and Houston Baptist. Tauaalo visited Utah State and Houston Baptist and will take his official visit to UNT this weekend.
Houston and Tulsa also showed interest in Tauaalo.
Tauaalo is familiar with UNT. He visited the school during his sophomore and junior years at Central. Joseph served as Tauaalo’s primary recruiter during that time and quickly built a relationship with him.
Central coach Bart Helsley said that Tauaalo’s unusual combination of size and athleticism is what makes him a top college prospect.
“T.J. has good size and has the athleticism to go along with it,” Helsley said. “He’s physical and moves really well for being 290 pounds.”
Tauaalo played some as a fullback during his junior year, when he made a diving, one-handed catch for a touchdown on a fourth-down play.
Helsley lettered at UNT in 1989 and 1990, when he was the Mean Green’s punter, and says his alma mater is getting not only a quality player, but a solid person.
“T.J.’s a kid who has strong character and cares about the people around him,” Helsley said.
Tauaalo wanted to stay close to his family and the people he cares about most.
“I wanted my mom and dad to be able to come out to most of my games,” Tauaalo said. “My parents were excited when I decided to stay close to home.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
NORTH TEXAS RECRUITS
The following is a list of players who have orally committed to sign with UNT in 2014:
School last attended
Moore (Okla.) Southmoore
Dallas South Oak Cliff
Round Rock McNeil
Edmond (Okla.) North
Northeastern Oklahoma A&M
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