When Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman’s Palaie Gaoteote took an unofficial visit to USC on Sunday, he just had a feeling. He felt comfortable.
He felt at home.
So the five-star sideline-to-sideline linebacker pulled the trigger and told the USC coaching staff he was ready to commit to becoming a Trojan.
“They were fired up about it. They were excited,” Gaoteote said. “They see a lot of potential in me and they see a lot in me as a person and as a football player. They were pretty fired up about it.”
Gaoteote has been a USC fan since birth since his family is full of Trojan fans, including his father and grandfather being cardinal and gold supporters.
“I've always been a USC fan growing up,” Gaoteote said. “:It’s always been my dream school. It's always been a dream of mine to attend USC. It just felt right in my heart. I was 100 percent sure of it.”
Not only is his family fans of the Trojans, but he said he also has family currently on the USC roster — Vavae Malepaie and Jordan Iosefa. Both are Hawaiian natives like Gaoteote. That familiarity made the decision an easy one for the top 2018 player in the West region.
“Just to have those two on the team and just not being far from home. Then just having the comfort of the Polynesian background and seeing people that understand me and where I come from and all that, it just adds a sense of comfort for me.”
USC’s heritage of Polynesian players along with the cavalcade of Polynesian players that have signed in the last couple of recruiting classes was also a factor for Gaoteote. He feels having other players and coaches, such as his primary recruiter Johnny Nansen, that have similar cultural values will help ease the transition to college.
The No. 1 linebacker in the nation and the No. 4 overall player in the 2018 class helped lead Bishop Gorman to a 15-0 record and the mythical national championship this past season. The Gaels won their Nevada state championship game, 84-8! Gaoteote was a key part of the defense, recording 68 tackles, including 11.5 for loss, and two sacks while playing in 10 games.
He will have an even bigger role on the Gorman defense his senior season after the Gaels lose studs such as four-star safety Bubba Bolden and four-star defensive tackle Haskell Garrett.
While he is listed as an outside linebacker, Gaoteote is being recruited by the Trojans as a middle linebacker. He said he is confident in his abilities and is hoping that he will be able to contribute right away when he gets to USC. He may have that opportunity with only three returning inside linebackers on the roster next season and Cameron Smith being eligible to enter the NFL draft early.
“As a player, you have to be confident in what you can do, so definitely I can see myself playing early as a freshman or if not starting, then possibly getting a lot of playing time because I'm willing to compete, compete from the beginning to get that starting job.”
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound beast is hopeful that with the inside linebacker position may come the potential honor of wearing the No. 55 jersey that has been worn by Trojan linebacker greats of the past.
“That would honestly mean the world to me. But if I don't get it my freshman year, I'm definitely going to keep trying until I can wear it. It doesn't matter if it's my senior year or my junior year as long as I can have the honor of wearing it at least one year in my career.
"I'm going to try to continue on with my No. 10, but I'm definitely going to wear 55 my junior year or my senior year just to honor Junior Seau, Willie McGinest and all the greats that wore No. 55.”
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