Last week, USC received another pledge for its 2017 class in the form of three-star athlete Tayler Katoa out of Layton, Utah. The high school senior is listed as an athlete but at 6’2” 222 lbs., Katoa is being recruited as an outside linebacker for the Trojans. Although he does not have the rating of some of USC’s other more heralded recruits, Katoa is a very solid pickup who should see plenty of playing time over the course of his career in Southern California.
Katoa is a versatile player with tremendous athletic ability. For his high school, he played both quarterback and outside linebacker (where he will probably line up in cardinal and gold). Although his 4.81 40 yard dash time may not stand out, Katoa is quick for his size and could be a menace rushing the passer. It is not totally clear whether Katoa will play the predator or SAM linebacker spot for Clancy Pendergast, but he has the ability to be effective in both.
From watching Katoa’s tape, the one area that stands out is his strength. The unfortunate part of playing high school football in Utah is the lack of competition, and Katoa truly looks a man among boys on the field. As a quarterback, Katoa easily breaks three to four tackles on just about every run, easily shaking off arm tackles from linebackers and defensive backs. As a pass rusher, he is able to either bull rush opposing tackles or use his speed to beat them around the edge. Again, his competition level is not high, but Katoa ensures that he does not play down to his opposition.
One former Trojan who appears to be an accurate comparison for Katoa is J.R. Tavai. Katoa is still pretty raw for the position which will require at least a year or two of development before seeing regular playing time. That being said, the time he spends on the practice field and in the weight room during this period should allow him to bulk up to about 250-260 lbs.—very similar to Tavai’s weight at SC. Once Katoa reaches his junior year, he should be almost identical size to that of Tavai: 6’2” 260 lbs.
Another similarity between Katoa and Tavai is their playing style. Neither are incredible athletes who can run a 40 yard dash in 4.6 seconds. However, both are physical, smart players that maximize their physical potential. Tavai was not redshirted as Katoa may well be, but he did not see the field on a regular basis until his junior year. This timeline will likely be very comparable to that of Katoa with the exception of a potential redshirt season.
Once Tavai did become a starter, he was a solid player recording 10 tackles for loss in consecutive seasons. He was not an overly dominant player for the Trojans, but he was a solid starter. This is likely Katoa’s upside as he does not have the athleticism to be a true difference maker rushing the passer. His ceiling is likely 10-12 TFL and 5-7 sacks at his peak.
With Porter Gustin only a true sophomore, playing time should be limited at the predator spot in 2017 and potentially 2018. Therefore, Katoa will have time to develop and hone his ability as a pass rusher if the Trojans deploy him at that position. If Katoa is placed in the SAM linebacker spot, playing time will also be limited in 2017 as Uchenna Nwosu is likely to return for his senior season in Troy. However, the position should be wide open in 2018 after Nwosu’s graduation, opening up the possibility of Katoa potentially pushing for playing time either as a true sophomore or redshirt freshman.
Even though Katoa is unlikely to become an All-American/first round draft pick type player, he can still become a solid contributor for the Trojans. He is a smart, instinctual football player who maximizes every ounce of his athleticism. He will need to add weight and hone his technique in the short term, but he should be ready for a role in 2018 or 2019. Katoa is unlikely to be a headline player for USC especially if the Trojans are playing at the level of a top 10 team, but if he develops and reaches his potential, he could push for a starting spot as an upperclassman.