Maybe Scott Pagano just knew what was coming better than his high school coach.
On the field inside the Alamodome four years ago after the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Pagano got caught in a children’s mob enveloping the players. The kids started asking for gear. Pagano started handing it out. And the defensive tackle didn’t stop.
“He practically gave away everything right there on the spot,” said former Moanalua head coach Arnold Martinez. “I’m standing behind him and he’s giving away shoes, his jersey, his gloves. Whatever he could give away, kids were asking him to sign it.
“I told him that his mom might want to keep some of that stuff, but he said he wanted to give it all away. He figured he’d get a bunch of new stuff at Clemson anyway. For his first real experience around people asking for autographs, I was proud of him.”
The 6-foot-3, 295-pound defensive tackle did get a lot more gear at Clemson to go with a national championship ring. Working behind Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence last season, the transplant from Honolulu, Hawaii posted 31 tackles and logged 299 snaps.
Now he’ll take his winning habits elsewhere as a graduate transfer, with visits set to Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Oregon on five straight weekends. The Irish are up first on March 24. While Pagano’s finalists appear disparate, the former four-star could fit into virtually any locker room, according Martinez.
Pagano was motivated enough to fly last-minute to the first Rivals Five-Star Challenge in Atlanta, also attended by Jaylon Smith and the late Greg Bryant. Pagano got about two hours of sleep while travelling, all to prove a Hawaii talent could stand up on the mainland.
But Pagano was also grounded enough to help Martinez talk to middle school kids when he came back to Hawaii during his Clemson career.
“It was neat to see these teachers watch this giant of a man coming into their school,” Martinez said. “The kids could hear who he was and he could tell them how he went to that same library when he was a kid.”
Pagano and Martinez remain close enough that the defensive tackle left him tickets to both Clemson’s national title games (Martinez only made the first one). They text regularly, and Martinez said Pagano’s departure from Clemson was on good terms.
“I’m not disappointed or shocked, but it would have been cool for him to finish it there,” Martinez said. “But there’s no bad blood or complaining about playing time. He’ll get his degree, was a model citizen, went to class, was a great teammate. Scott took care of business.
“He felt like he wanted to get a different experience.”
Martinez said he’s not sure what Pagano wants to study next but said sports management or athletics administration were potential areas.
“But I don’t think that’s driving the decision,” Martinez said. “It’s more all-around feel for the program. The coaches too. He has some experience with some of the other coaches he wants to visit. He remembers some of those relationships from recruiting.”
Notre Dame is light in that department but not without some history.
Martinez said he remembered the Irish recruiting Pagano out of high school, although the defensive tackle never visited. His early leaders back then were Florida, LSU and Alabama, with Clemson a late surprise. Pagano has an aunt who lives in South Carolina and his parents relocated there during his Clemson career.
“I thought he might try to get closer to the West Coast, but now I think he’s just gonna check it all out,” Martinez said. “He wants to go somewhere where he can help right away, help the team be successful. It’s not just what he can get out of it.”
What Pagano could do for Notre Dame is obvious. The Irish must replace Jarron Jones on the interior. Daniel Cage should take over that role but has a history of concussions. Jerry Tillery has some experience but endured an up-and-down sophomore season.
It’s hard to believe Pagano wouldn’t walk into the starting lineup, although the same could be true at his other finalists. There’s always a market for national championship winning defensive tackles who’ve shown enough maturity to strike out on their own.
“I don’t think he’s always looking for the most comfortable situation,” Martinez said. “He has enough maturity to stretch. That’s what you want to see. He had enough courage to handle going from Hawaii to South Carolina. He’ll do what feels right to him.”