Updated: Sep 16, 2019
Producing great linebackers has been a rich tradition in the USC Trojans organization for the better part of five decades.
In the 1970s, it was the Richard Wood. In the 1980s, it was the legendary Junior Seau. In the 1990s, it was Chris Claiborne. Their biggest boom came in the 2000s with Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, and Clay Matthews III.
Last season emerged freshman Palaie Gaoteote, a player that many regard as the Trojans next great linebacker. Yet for Gaoteote, his mindset goes beyond being just a name in a long list of great Trojan linebackers, rather he aspires to be the program's greatest linebacker.
“IE came in my office about the fourth or fifth game last year,” and he wants to be the best linebacker that ever played at USC," defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast told
USC reporter Alicia de Artola.
Not just words, but in actions on the field, Gaoteote displayed the various ways of his versatility. Last season, he played at weakside linebacker. When starting middle linebacker and leading tackler Camerson Smith was sidelined with numerous injuries, Gaoteote replaced him at middle linebacker where he collected 25 tackles in his place. Despite the growing pains at that spot, Gaoteote played that position honorably till his return to the lineup.
In addition to his speed and explosiveness, Gaoteote has always been aware that his physicality it what has defined him as a player. "Growing up, my dad just playing football, he always told me I have to play like a wrecking ball and I have to go through things."
This sophomore season for Gaoteote is the opportunity he has long waited to take his overall game to the next level. No matter the position at linebacker he is assigned, his objective remains the same. Similar to the great Trojan linebackers of the past, his presence is ready to be felt on a national stage.