LAS VEGAS—Palaie Gaoteote IV is, by many accounts, the No. 1 high school linebacker in the nation.
He plays for three-time defending USA TODAY Super 25 national champion Bishop Gorman, and he’s committed to his childhood favorite college, USC.
But “E.A.,” as he’s affectionately known to his boys, is not a happy camper this week.
For the first time since seventh grade, E.A. lost on a football field—twice.
Gaoteote and his 702 Elite teammates dropped two games during the Pylon 7on7 Las Vegas National Championships, and he’s looking for redemption this weekend in the adidas 7v7 National Championship, also being held in his hometown.
Despite his competitive energy focused on this weekend, Gaoteote took some time to talk to USA TODAY, particularly about his choice to “Fight On” with USC after he graduates in 2018.
“I put everything aside, all my biased opinions … I just looked at it as a school, and as a football school,” said the 6-foot-2, 230-pound five-star athlete. “And just the tradition at USC, the way Coach (Clay) Helton is running stuff, I could just see that it’s going to be special and it’s something I can see me being a part of.”
Gaoteote said there is also a sense of familiarity there, with friends from Hawaii already enrolled, not to mention Class of 2017 Army All-American Bubba Bolden heading there in the fall.
Gaoteote and Bolden bolstered Gorman’s defense this past season, helping the Gaels extend their winning streak to 54 games.
Ultimately, though, Gaoteote said his Ohana—his family—is what helped him decide on picking the Trojans.
“This whole decision was based off me and my family,” said Gaoteote, who registered 68 tackles as a junior. “They’ve been there since Day 1, so they’re going to be there ‘til the last day. They’re going to be there my whole life, through thick and thin. They play a big part in everything.
“That’s basically who you have to sell on a program. If there’s a program showing interest that’s taken interest me, the biggest part, you have to sell my parents. If my parents buy into the program, that’s when I’ll buy into the program.”
Consider the Trojans sold, as Gaoteote was happy to get his recruitment process out of the way so he can enjoy the offseason with his 7-man team, and training for his senior year with the Gaels.
“It’s a great blessing just to have all these schools, but just to get that out of the way, and just for me to (be able to) focus is going to be something special,” Gaoteote said. “It’s going to allow me to work on myself as a player, and as a leader. It’s going to help me learn and grow together with my team.”
Which is something he knows must happen quickly, if Gorman plans to defend its three-time Super 25 title successfully, with key departures heading to college, including Bolden and National Player of the Year Tate Martell.
Gaoteote will anchor the defense, while quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and tight end Brevin Jordan will spearhead the offense.
“Even with (Martell and Bolden) it was a tough battle, we knew we had to work,” Gaoteote said. “This year we’re going to have to work even harder than them. We’re going to have to put Gorman on top again, we have a big target on our back so we know it comes with a lot of responsibility and a lot of hard work.
“We’re all for it. We’re all ready to just sell into the program, and just work as hard as we can.”
And just as Martell made his way through his senior campaign as the face of arguably what’s become the most popular high school program in America, Gaoteote said he’s ready to carry on the tradition and step in and lead his troops.
“I’m all for it. I’ve been watching Tate and how he carries himself, so I’m all for it,” Gaoteote said. “I’m ready to just step up and just be the leader of the team. But I’m not going to be able to do that without the help of Dorian and Brevin.”
Which is what makes 702 Elite even more special for him, as the trio is on the roster, which is made up mostly of Gorman players.
And while he rarely greeted anyone last weekend sans a smile on his face, walking among peers and other nationally ranked football players, he came away with a scowl and one mission for this weekend.
“Football is something I have a passion for, ever since I was two,” he said. “I grew up watching it, so just to come out here and just to play football. Two days, back-to-back-to-back, is, I don’t know how to explain it.
“The trash talk and everything, it adds to the game. It comes with the game. This whole tournament is going to be something fun to watch.”