Bishop Gorman linebacker Palaie Gaoteote has plenty of reasons to stay committed to USC, but No. 55 may be one of the most important.
Faith, family and football brought Las Vegas (Nev.) five-star linebacker Palaie Gaoteote to USC as an unexpected commit in February, and now Trojan fans expect that Clay Helton’s mantra will be what keeps him committed as he takes official visits to multiple schools.
“Coach (Clay) Helton, he hits it on the nail every time,” said Gaoteote. “He’s probably the only coach I heard preach “Faith, Family and Football.”
“That’s basically the foundation of every Poly household, it’s always faith and then family – whether you’re playing a different sport, it’s always faith, then family. But he’s the first coach that I’ve ever heard that from and that’s probably why we (USC) get so many Polynesians. It’s why we connect with a lot of them because that’s basically the gist– that’s the foundation of every Poly household.”
USC has turned that foundation into a pipeline of Polynesian talent.
“The Poly thing, honestly, has just been going on for decades,” said Gaotetote. “From Junior Seau past that, it just keeps on going with Su’a Cravens, Juju Smith… The Poly thing just keeps on rolling in. That Poly connection at USC is just never going to end.”
Besides a late process trip to USC, Gaoteote plans to officially visit Oregon, UCLA, Ohio State and Alabama.
As a USC commit, Gaoteote went to The Opening Finals with his head on a swivel looking to add to the Trojans 2018 class.
“Ah man, there are so many athletes out here, but I’m still on Matt (Corral) because you know,” said Gaoteote. “He’s been an SC guy all his freshman year, so you know, you gotta stay on him because he’s always been a USC.
“He’s always been promoting the school, so you know his heart is there. We also have been looking at Justin Fields, Jeremy (Ruckert) the tight end from my team, Solomon Tuliaupupu, Merlin Robertson… There are so many athletes out here that I would mention them all, but I can’t right off the top of my head. If we can get everybody, we can get everybody. I would love that.”
But as a committed recruit, Gaoteote took a different approach to enjoying his experience in Oregon.
“It’s always a blessing being out here, for one,” said Gaoteote. “Just seeing the level of talent and me being a committed athlete, you kind of want to recruit, but at the same time, you just want to let them be and enjoy their process as well.
“Right now, all I’ve been focusing on is just talking to all the players, building a bond and a brotherhood because it’s a lifetime fraternity now that we’ve been apart of The Opening. For now, I’m really just trying to let everyone have fun and ball out and do them. For the most part, it was a great experience for me and as well the guys.”
Gerard Martinez | USCFootball.com
The Opening was only partly about recruiting. From a player development standpoint, Gaoteote was trying to adapt to playing a new position.
“I don’t usually play middle, so I’m working on being able to read receivers and stuff like that,” said Gaoteote. “I don’t usually play middle, that’s my first time actually, to be honest.
“So for the most part, just being able to play in the middle and being able to recognize the seams and outs and just being able to be a leader out there, that’s basically what I’ve been trying to practice all the time why I’m here.
“That’s probably one of the more weak points of my game, just recognizing receivers and their routes off the bat.
USC projects Gaoteote as an indie linebacker in their 3-4 variant scheme.
“They see me playing more of a WILL or a MIKE,” said Gaoteote. “For the most part, just playing out here and being in the middle is just a whole different animal.
“I’m used to jammin’ and working the hook to the curl route, but playing middle you have more o think about. So right now, a lot of it is just me making adjustments.
“If you see me playing slow out there, I’m not looking as fast, it’s just because I’m trying to be a student of the game and just learn the position.
“I’m working to learn all three of the positions. Whether it’s nickel, SAM, WILL or MIKE, I’m just trying to learn to be a student of the game. Right now it’s just a learning process for me and I should’ve– probably went over it before I came here, but you know you got to do it against the best of the best to become the best.”
Santa Ana (Calif.) four-star linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu is a player USC is working hard to pair with Gaoteote. Both players have the potential to play MIKE or SAM linebacker in college.
“The regional camp was actually the first time we ever met and from there we just clicked,” said Gaoteote. “We kind of just made each other better.
“So now we talk to each other on a daily basis. He’s kind of like my brother now. Everything we do, we do it together and I would like to see him at SC with me. So, I mean, if we’re going to do that, if he’s going to come to SC, it’s going to be a hell of a ride and it’s going to be scary.”
USC thinks so much of Gaoteote, the discussion of wearing the famed No. 55 has already been broached by the coaching staff.
“Oh man, I want it,” said Gaoteote. “I’ve been talking to Coach (Johnny) Nansen about it. He’s 100-percent with me all the time, so he always tells me the truth.
“He said that if I want it, I can go get it. Nothing is going to be handed to me. So if I want that 55, yeah I want it — I want it bad. Whether it’s me or the next guy who wants that, I’m going to go get it. I want that 55.”