first_imgFreshman linebacker Palaie Gaoteote lead the team with nine tackles against Colorado and had 11 tackles in Utah. (Josh Dunst | Daily Trojan)Freshman linebacker Palaie Gaoteote lowered his helmet and exploded into Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault, making the tackle that would leave him on the ground for a few minutes after the play. Gaoteote knocked himself out.When asked if he knew immediately after the play that he had a concussion, he grinned.“Nah,” Gaoteote said. “Shoot, it’s just football. Just playing, big hits come and go. It was kind of funny — that’s why I walked off smiling.”Gaoteote’s speed is striking for a player his size. At 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, you might expect him to lumber around the field and struggle to keep up with quicker playmakers. But this is not so with the youngster that teammates and coaches alike affectionately know as “EA.” Gaoteote often appears to be shot out of a cannon when plugging a running lane or tracking a receiver with his ability to accelerate at a moment’s notice.USC football has had a chaotic season, but the rise of Gaoteote has been one of the bright spots. Even while Gaoteote sat out much of fall camp and the first two games of the season with a slight meniscus tear, USC coaches could hardly contain their excitement about the former five-star recruit out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas.In two games since taking over at middle linebacker for injured senior Cameron Smith, Gaoteote hasn’t let his coaches down. In USC’s 31-20 victory over Colorado on Oct. 13, the true freshman hailing from Hawaii led the team with nine total tackles, despite playing just over a half of the contest. Even in the Trojans’ disappointing 41-28 loss to Utah on Saturday, Gaoteote showcased his talent with 11 tackles and his first collegiate sack. But athleticism isn’t the only marker of Gaoteote’s youth. The true freshman seems impervious to negativity. When asked how he felt the Wednesday after his head injury, Gaoteote smiled before saying he felt well and was improving every day. Even after USC’s lackluster defensive effort against the Utes, Gaoteote refused to say anything negative. “We played good, really well,” Gaoteote said. “We flew to everything, just did the best we could do and continued to do it.”It was clear Gaoteote was unfazed by the blowout when he said he knew the Trojans would win this week’s home game against Arizona State. Some may call this proclamation after a significant loss naive or arrogant, but Gaoteote’s earnest confidence is something the Trojans could use a lot more of right now.He has been one of the Trojans’ most productive players during his limited time on the field, even while taking over as the defensive signal-caller in Smith’s absence. This is quite an impressive load for a true freshman to carry, especially considering all the time Gaoteote missed to start the season, and shows that Gaoteote already reads the game at a veteran level.“I’ve said this before, that linebacker position is like being a quarterback of the defense in terms of having to make calls and make adjustments,” head coach Clay Helton said to the Los Angeles Times last week. “You’re literally a quarterback back there trying to make those calls, plus doing your own job. I’m so impressed with what he [has done], and I think the future is extremely bright.”Gaoteote’s positive attitude also manifests itself in his response to success, and he credits his teammates for helping him into a position to produce.“I was really comfortable,” Gaoteote said the Wednesday after the Colorado game. “It just came from the other guys like [redshirt junior linebacker] John [Houston], and the defensive linemen, playing off of them. My teammates as a whole made it easy for me to be out there, and just have fun with it.”It’s still early to tell, but Gaoteote has the chance to live up to the hype and become the next great USC linebacker. At the very least, it certainly seems clear that he was destined to be a Trojan; Gaoteote said he models his game after USC great Troy Polamalu and his idol Junior Seau.There was speculation before the season that Gaoteote could earn the right to wear the No. 55 jersey that USC legends such as Seau and Willie McGinest made iconic during their time at the school. He ended up with No. 1, but a continuation of his strong start could change that. Don’t be surprised if Gaoteote eventually earns that honor only bestowed upon the best this blue-blood program has to offer.last_img