Palaie Gaoteote wants to be the best ever for USC football

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

Palaie Gaoteote told Clancy Pendergast he has a lofty goal for his USC football career. The move to the WILL linebacker spot will put him on track.

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Sophomore linebacker Palaie Gaoteote was a heralded recruit coming out of high school in 2019. He has no intentions of letting the hype slow down when it comes to his college career.

“IE came in my office about the fourth or fifth game last year,” defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said. “And he wants to be the best linebacker that ever played at USC.”

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The Trojans have produced more than their share of all-time great linebackers, from Richard Wood and Junior Seau to Chris Claiborne and Rey Maualuga. Joining that number, let alone besting them, would be no mean feat.

Gaoteote appears to have the necessary traits. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s explosive, he’s quick, he’s fierce. And he clearly wants it.

“You’ve got to love his heart and what he brings to the table,” Pendergast said. “He wants to do anything he can to help us win, ever since he’s been here.”

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As a freshman, Gaoteote flashed while playing in multiple positions. He started in an outside role against Washington State, then filled in for Cameron Smith at middle linebacker against Colorado, Utah and ASU.

In the finale against Notre Dame, he shifted to the weakside linebacker role, and it’s there where he will help the team going forward.

Under Pendergast, USC’s MIKE and WILL spots are almost interchangeable. The MIKE is responsible for making all the calls for the defense. He must also be more patient when it comes to diagnosing plays.

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Patient isn’t a word anyone would use to describe Gaoteote, and that got him into trouble fitting runs against the Sun Devils.

The learning experience of 2018 hasn’t gone to waste.

“I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was,” Gaoteote said. “Definitely this year I don’t take that for granted and I try to get in the film room, try to learn the playbook in and out.”

It was a learning experience for Pendergast as well, who has changed his defense in a bid to better fit players to positions.

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“I just think he’s better suited being in the position where he’s at now, behind a three-technique where he can keep them covered up and let him run and hit,” Pendergast said.

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The benefit for Gaoteote has been obvious.

“It’s all go. You don’t have to play as patient. You’re just coming down hill, running fast, as fast as you can,” Gaoteote said. “I’m loving it.”

Playing fast has been an emphasis across the defense, along with conditioning. As a result, Gaoteote has lost 15 pounds, down to 244 pounds, in a bid to improve his speed.

He’s also taking lessons from his fellow linebackers, in particular the outside linebackers who have transitioned inside this spring, absorbing the edge rushing skill of someone like Kana’i Mauga.

“He’s getting really comfortable with where he’s at right now,” Pendergast said. “So I’m really happy with his progress.”