One of the best linebackers to walk the halls of Saint Ignatius High School will be heading to one of the best football programs in the country in the fall.
Tommy Eichenberg will be a Buckeye.
The senior announced his committment to The Ohio State University on Thursday evening, garnering over 500 retweets and 5,000 likes in less than 24 hours.
"I've always wanted to go there, my entire life," Eichenberg said Friday morning. "That's my dream school. I couldn't pass up the opportunity."
Eichenberg enjoyed arguably one of the best single seasons at linebacker in Saint Ignatius football history. The 6'3, 228-pound 'backer served as the anchor point for the defense all season long, leading the team in nearly every defensive statistical category.
Eichenberg finished his 2018 campaign with 80 solo tackles and 46 assists (126 total). He added 8 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, 5 pass breakups, 7 quarterback hurries, 5 forced fumbles, and 1 interception. Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle '69 compared him to all-time great Trent Zenkewicz '91.
Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach Ryan Franzinger '02 agreed with the assessment, citing his grittiness.
"Tom is one of the best practicers. He practices really hard. He set a great example for his teammates by doing that," Franzinger said. "I don't rank the guys I coach, but I almost do. He's right up there, I would say top three, and you can probably guess the other two."
Following an 0-2 start, the Wildcats switched Eichenberg from outside linebacker to middle 'backer. The switch made a huge difference, helping the Wildcats tear off eight straight wins heading into the postseason.
"He's probably a stronger inside run defender. Once we moved him to the middle, we weren't giving up many rushing yards," Franzinger said. "When he was an outside backer, he was able to rush the passer a little more. As he moved to middle backer, his pass rush was mostly in the interior, so that put him on centers, guards, and some running backs. That was really good. I knew he would be a good fit there, but we were trying to put all of the pieces together."
As Franzinger explained, Eichenberg's height is a big plus.
"His height really helped him. I'm not always a proponent of 'Who's the taller guy?' That's more of an NFL and college thing," Franzinger said. "But he has great vision. He reads the play really well, and then attacks. He has a great ability to disengage blocks. He uses his hands really well. College coaches love that. He has longer arms – he's just a taller linebacker than we typically have. Berger was probably that height too. God blessed him with that size and those skills, and he embraced it and developed those even further."
Ohio State, Michigan, and several other Division I schools took notice of the switch to the middle and Eichenberg's skill on his tape at middle linebacker. Eichenberg's play popped on film, and drew heaps of scholarship offers.
Eichenberg had previously committed to Boston College, but reopened his commitment once Ohio State came calling.
"Growing up, my entire family watched Ohio State every Saturday," Eichenberg said. "I always wanted to play for them."
Eichenberg grew up idolizing Ohio State stars such as AJ Hawk and James Laurinaitis. Linebackers Kyle Berger '14 and Scott McVey '09 also chose Ohio State after brilliant careers with the Wildcats, as did Dre'Mont Jones '15, a potential first-round pick in this year's NFL Draft.
Another Wildcat who chose Ohio State agreed with his decision.
"I think Ohio State is a great fit for him. I'm glad he's staying in Ohio," said Franzinger, a 2006 OSU alum. "Had he gone to BC, that would have been fine, too. Another great school. I know he was looking at Michigan, and I can say, as an Ohio State alumnus, is also a great school. He had a lot of good options and he earned those. He put himself in that position with his hard work."
Eichenberg decided on Ohio State the night before Urban Meyer announced his retirement as head football coach. Eichenberg made the decision public on Thursday night, becoming a key member of Ohio State's 2019 class.
Eichenberg cited Ryan Day's promotion and the commitment to the stats quo as one reason for his commitment.
"They're keeping everything that Urban created intact," Eichenberg said. "All of the coaches are there. [Linbackers] coach [Bill] Davis will be there. I like Coach Day, and I obviously like Coach Davis, so I'm happy with what's happening."
Another important aspect is Ohio State's dedication to preparing student-athletes for life after football.
Every Wednesday, Ohio State football hosts Real Life Wednesdays for its players. Sessions focus on how to acquire internships, start businesses, and how to make it in the "real world." That impressed Eichenberg, though he's undecided on his future profession.
"They made a big deal about life after football. They showed many examples about how many connections they have with Real Life Wednesdays, where I can intern at a certain business or go anywhere," said Eichenberg. "Even if you're not playing football after college, you have a very good life."
Eichenberg will miss Saint Ignatius. His older brother, Liam '16, also played football for the Wildcats, matriculating to Notre Dame. The younger Eichenberg is thankful for the experience and for all of those who made it possible.
"It was special. Growing up, always watching my brother play, then finally playing varsity. It was a dream come true," said Eichenberg. "The last four years were definitely the best of my life. I want to thank my parents, all of my coaches, especially Coach Franzinger and Coach Rubino."
The Wildcats' coaching staff will certainly miss him, too.
"He is a great kid. I'm really going to miss him, it's been fun coaching him," Franzinger said. "But I'll get to coach him in the spring for track & field, so I do have one more season left with him."
Congratulations on your commitment, Tom! You'll look great in the scarlet and gray!