Gerard Martinez

First-hand experience changes Popo Aumavae's perception of USC

Four-star defensive tackle Popo Aumavae had his eyes opened about USC after unofficial visit during the spring.

In recruiting, perceptions and reputations can be game changers. But it isn’t always a positive change.

How a football program is viewed can help determine how successful the team can be when swinging for talent out of the local area. While a school with a new coaching staff might be trying to change the culture, unless it gets a prospect on campus, that recruit is going purely off what he’s heard about the school, football program, location, etc.

Unofficial visits take on that much more importance because they can set things straight, which is what happened for four-star Stockton (Calif.) St. Mary’s defensive tackle Popo Aumavae.

When Aumavae came down to visit Southern California schools during the spring, he had more interest in UCLA, but the USC coaching staff got him to stop by for a visit that may have changed his opinion of the Trojans.

“When I went there, it was very unexpected,” Aumavae said. “I didn’t know it was a private school. I didn’t know much about USC because when I hear USC I think it’s that little school in the ghetto and stuff, but it actually opened my eyes up about USC.”

“I liked everything about both schools,” Aumavae said of his visits to USC and UCLA. “The way they run everything is pretty cool and hype. It pretty much it felt like home when I was at their practice because that’s the way we practice.”

The 6-foot-3, 300-pound lineman is listed as a defensive tackle, but could end up on the offensive or defensive side of the ball in college. Most schools are recruiting him as a jumbo athlete. Aumavae participated as an offensive lineman at the Nike Opening Oakland Regional over the weekend, but said his preference is on defense.

“I like defense better because you get to be aggressive with the hands and stuff like that.”

USC is recruiting him as an athlete. The Trojans told Aumavae they prefer to put players at the position they like more because then they get the player’s best effort. While head coach Clay Helton was the one to offer Aumavae and remains in contact, defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze is his primary recruiter.

“He likes my aggressiveness, how I use my hands, my quick feet,” Aumavae said. “He’s really cool. He’s kind of funny. I can kind of relate to him because he kind of acts like a teenager. It’s just really cool.”

California’s No. 2 defensive tackle has offers from 11 of the 12 schools in the Pac-12 but is in no rush to make a decision. Instead, Aumavae plans to take his time and make an announcement on National Signing Day. 

“I have a whole another year basically of football and then I want to see what offers I have and then narrow it down from there,” Aumavae said. “I’m not going to make an early commitment. I’m going to make sure I know what I like and make sure that’s going to be my home for the next four years.”

Check out Popo Aumavae’s highlights from his junior season for St. Mary’s: Top Stories