While USC’s 2017 class started off poorly before finishing with a bang, the 2018 recruiting cycle is shaping up to be much different. The USC Trojans have the commitment of three four-star recruits plus one five star and recently added another pledge from the top inside linebacker in the nation, Palaie Gaoteote. A product of national powerhouse Bishop Gorman high school in Las Vegas, Gaoteote is an immediate impact player who could be one of the headliners of what is shaping up to be an impressive 2018 recruiting class for USC.
Palaie Gaoteote could be a starter his freshman year at USC:
Gaoteote is only entering his senior year of high school, but from watching him play, he already looks like a college football player. Listed at 6’2" 230 lbs., Gaoteote has the body and physicality to step right on to the field as a freshman. The Army All-American is the prototype inside linebacker who should immediately challenge for a starting role in Southern California. That being said, a starting job is only the tip of the iceberg for Gaoteote as he easily has the talent to play on Sundays.
The Gorman product’s biggest strength is his instincts as a football player. Gaoteote has an uncanny ability to sift through traffic on running plays and make a stop before the ball carrier gets to the second level. In addition, he does an excellent job of diagnosing the direction of a play and who has the football, allowing him to use his physical strengths to eventually make the play. Being an inside linebacker requires a certain level of football instincts to make an impact and Gaoteote has them in spades.
Palaie Gaoteote is a physically gifted tackling machine:
Gaoteote’s mental aptitude for the game is part of what sets him apart from other physically gifted players, but his physical traits are not to be overlooked. The All-American is already 230 pounds but he is still on the lanky side and could easily add at least another 15 pounds as his body develops. Gaoteote does not need the extra strength as he already rarely misses a tackle and easily sheds blockers, but he will need to be in the 240-250 lb. range for the NFL.
As is the requirement for any excellent inside linebacker, Gaoteote is a tackling machine. Despite sitting out six games during his junior season due to a thumb injury, the Gorman product still was able to lead his team in tackles. Considering that Bishop Gorman is littered with Division I football players and was the consensus national champions, this feat is all the more impressive.
Palaie Gaoteote has a nose for the ball and plays sideline to sideline but needs work on his pass coverage skills:
Gaoteote is not incredibly fast in the open field, but his motor, quickness, and strength are what set him apart. Gaoteote is simply always around the ball. Regardless of what direction the play is designed, the All-American is always there to make a play. He may not have 4.5 speed, but he easily covers ground from sideline to sideline. Gaoteote is very quick in short spaces and has explosive closing speed. When combined with his habit of playing with a low pad level that prevents him from being off balance in tackles, Gaoteote is almost always delivering vicious hits that wrap up a ball carrier with ease.
Although it may seem as though the soon-to-be senior has no flaws, Gaoteote can improve in coverage (as is the case with most high school linebackers). At Gorman, Gaoteote is rarely asked to drop back into pass coverage as his coaches prefer to keep him in the box as either an inside linebacker or outside linebacker rushing the quarterback. Even if Gaoteote is shifted out wide to the SAM position, he will need to work on his coverage skills before the Trojans can rely upon him to be a true three-down linebacker.
Palaie Gaoteote could fill the void eventually left by Cameron Smith:
The 2018 season is a long ways away, but it is difficult to not pencil in Gaoteote as the starting "Mike" linebacker once he arrives on campus. Cam Smith may be departing to the NFL after this season, potentially leaving the Trojans with a massive hole to fill on defense. Gaoteote could fill Smith’s role and then some as he offers even more upside than USC’s current star linebacker. That being said, a lot can change over the next year and a half to change this situation. Plus, if Smith decides to stay for his senior season, Gaoteote may be forced to play the "Will" or SAM positions to earn more playing time. In the end though, regardless of where he is lined up, it is highly unlikely Gaoteote will be spending his debut season as a redshirt.
It is not a done deal, beware of Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes:
The 2018 recruiting class has gotten off to an excellent start for USC and keeping Gaoteote in tow will be one of the coaching staff’s biggest chores over the next year. Ohio State has landed numerous players out of Gorman recently and they will surely continue to make a push towards hopefully flipping the talented linebacker. USC will need to keep the full-court press on Gaoteote up until signing day (as well as carrying over the success from the second half of 2016) as the Army All-American should be the highest priority recruit on defense.