When Ohio State opened preseason camp last summer, USC transfer linebacker Palaie Gaoteote didn’t know if he would be eligible to play for the Buckeyes in 2021.
He was still practicing the team as he awaited word from the NCAA, but wasn’t getting many reps until he was cleared just one day before the second game of the season against Oregon.
By that time, his chances at significant playing time had diminished, and he finished the year with just nine tackles and one tackle for loss in 78 defensive snaps across eight games.
Fast forward one year, though, and the 6-foot-2 and 245-pound Gaoteote isn’t weighed down by any off-field distractions. His only focus now is to make an impact on a defense in desperate need of playmakers.
“Not having to deal with that this year, it just allows me to be full speed and just be a part of the team, submerge myself into everything,” Gaoteote said during his post-practice media availability on Tuesday. “It’s been a good process.”
While defensive coordinator Jim Knowles recently said redshirt juniors Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers have been “solidifying” themselves as the starters, Gaoteote provides some much-needed depth at the position.
He’s primarily been practicing at weak-side linebacker, but also floats to the strong side and the hybrid defensive end/linebacker spot known as the “Jack.” Having that versatility will certainly help him contribute this fall.
“When they call my number and tell me what spot, I’m just ready for it,” Gaoteote said. “I'm really just investing in it and giving it everything I’ve got.”
Gaoteote dealt with numerous injuries that limited him to just 10 games during his final two seasons with the Trojans, and that coupled with some personal issues made him lose his love for the game.
The disappointing start to his time in Columbus could have easily made that feeling worse, but Gaoteote saw the light at the end of the tunnel and kept working.
Now, he finds himself in a position that many expected him to be in as a former five-star prospect from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, which is having a chance to play a meaningful role for a national title contender.
“It kind of felt like I needed a new chapter in my life,” Gaoteote said of his decision to transfer from USC. “Just coming to a great university like Ohio State, I’ve been really happy here. I haven’t regretted it once.”
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