COLUMBUS — Palaie Gaoteote is officially an Ohio State student.
The next step for the former five-star recruit is actually becoming a member of the football team.
Gaoteote arrived on campus Monday to a warm welcome from the program in the form of his All-American cousin Haskell Garrett, and the USC transfer is now set to take classes in the summer session. But it’s not yet a done deal that the two-year starter with the Trojans will be suiting up for the Buckeyes, though that’s clearly the intention for both parties given his cross-country move after a patient stint in the portal.
Even in this more wide-open world of college football, sources with direct knowledge of the situation indicated that Gaoteote would still need to file a waiver with the NCAA to be cleared to play at Ohio State this season. And until that situation is resolved and an appeal is approved, the proven hard-hitter at the Power Five level won’t be considered part of the Buckeyes roster or an option to bolster the thin depth at linebacker.
“Iâ€™m very encouraged with what we did on defense this spring in general,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said after camp. “I think we have some really good young talent back there, and the forecast is that weâ€™re going to get everybody back here. We did have some surgeries, different things, so that was frustrating that these guys werenâ€™t able to get as many reps in the spring as you would like.
“The good news is the cavalry is coming on this thing, and weâ€™re going to have really great depth back there.”
The plan is for Palaie Gaoteote to join that oncoming rush and give the Buckeyes another physical presence at linebacker, and the work is already underway to make it happen.
So, what would adding Gaoteote mean to Ohio State moving forward? Let’s break it down.
Palaie Gaoteote would bring proven production to Ohio State
Ohio State hasn’t had to worry about a lack of experience at linebacker in a long time, but eventually the bill was going to come due. With the top-four tacklers from the unit all departing at once, that moment is now for the Buckeyes. It was clear during camp in March and April just how challenging the reload could be when it was suiting up a long-snapper at linebacker for the spring game. Injuries only made it more complicated for the Buckeyes, obviously, and getting veteran Dallas Gant back from a foot issue will alleviate some of the depth concerns. But no matter what, Ohio State was going to head into the season with virtually no starting experience at linebacker on the roster — something Gaoteote would address with 14 starts under his belt and more than 100 career tackles. Granted, that resumÃ© was built in a different program and system, but those still came at the Power-Five level and largely backed up his five-star pedigree.
Buckeyes could get multiple seasons out of Palaie Gaoteote
In this new era of roster management, flexibility is critical — but Ohio State also doesn’t want to be constantly shopping in the portal looking for a short-term fix. Few programs in the country have done a better job of selectively using the portal to complement elite recruiting and a culture that generally keeps that talent around for the long haul. Gaoteote could be more than just a one-year rental, though, which would make him an appealing option to help stabilize the depth chart with Teradja Mitchell and Dallas Gant both likely to be wrapping up their Ohio State careers this season. There’s no definitive guarantee that Gaoteote will even be on the roster this season, of course, but thanks to the bonus year of eligibility due to COVID, he would potentially have as many as three years to play with the Buckeyes. It’s unlikely that Gaoteote would use them all if he was living up to his reputation, but even two seasons would likely be appealing as the Silver Bullets go through this reloading transition.
Ohio State would get depth, flexibility at linebacker
Dallas Gant and Teradja Mitchell have paid their dues, and they are both poised to capitalize as veterans. Cody Simon delivered one of the strongest spring camps on the team. Tommy Eichenberg showed he could be a future leader for the program, and K’Vaughan Pope has had flashy moments throughout his career thanks to his dynamic athleticism. When the Buckeyes are fully healthy, they aren’t lacking in confidence about the top of the depth chart. But it only took a couple injuries during spring to show how tenuous the situation is for that unit. And while Gaoteote has had a couple health setbacks of his own with a nagging ankle issue as a sophomore and a concussion last year, adding another body to the mix would be significant in giving position coach Al Washington both more security and flexibility with his rotation.