With fewer than three weeks to go until the first game of the season, Ohio State still doesn’t know whether Palaie Gaoteote will be eligible to play this season.
The former USC linebacker, who transferred to Ohio State this summer, has applied for a waiver to be immediately eligible this season but has not yet received a ruling from the NCAA. While Ohio State has not specified why Gaotoete did not qualify for the one-time transfer exception, Ryan Day publicly made his case on Monday for why he believes Gaoteote should receive that waiver.
“He was in a very, very tough spot through COVID. Not to get into his family situation, but it was hard for him. So we’re very optimistic that the NCAA will grant his waiver to allow him to play this season,” Day said. “I think when you get the details of everything he’s been through over the last year, two years, but certainly in the last year with COVID, I think you’d understand kind of why things are the way they are for him. So again, very optimistic that he’ll get the waiver.”
Because Gaoteote is not yet eligible to play for the Buckeyes, he’s currently paying his own tuition to Ohio State and has not been placed on scholarship. That said, Day made it clear on Monday that he is pleased with how Gaoteote is handling the situation.
“He’s paying his own way, he’s applied for a waiver with the NCAA, he’s taken some classes this summer and done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Day said. “Really hoping that it works out for him.”
Ohio State linebackers coach Al Washington offered similar praise of Gaoteote last week.
“Palaie’s just a great person and a really hard-working kid,” Washington said. “The group has really embraced him. So hopefully it works out, but I just love the fact that he’s around, he gives off great energy and he’s definitely a good fit.”
Dallas Gant, who’s been roommates with Gaoteote at the team’s hotel for preseason camp, described Gaoteote as “a great guy.”
“He performs well on the field. He’s a very smart guy, very talented guy,” Gant said. “And a great dude as well.”
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do.”– Ryan Day on Palaie Gaoteote
The continued wait for an answer from the NCAA has left Ohio State in a tough spot with Gaoteote for the first two weeks of preseason camp. While the former five-star recruit certainly has the potential to make an impact at linebacker for the Buckeyes this season – they wouldn’t have added him to the roster if they didn’t think that – they’ve been hesitant about giving him too many reps with the first- and second-team defenses because they don’t yet know whether he’ll be available to play.
Nonetheless, Day indicated Monday that Gaoteote had been getting more reps in practice than they gave him initially, even though it's still unclear when the NCAA will make a decision.
“It’s certainly not ideal for him or us to not know if he’s gonna be eligible or not,” Day said. “He’s been getting a decent amount of reps. That’s a little unsettling when you think if he doesn’t get his waiver, he’ll be ineligible to play right now. So that’s hard on him. But hopefully we get a quick response so we can get him some information, and us some information, so we can move forward.”
Ohio State will have to begin setting its depth chart at linebacker over the next couple of weeks as it draws closer to its Sept. 2 season opener against Minnesota. Where exactly Gaoteote will fit in on that depth chart remains uncertain. Teradja Mitchell is the presumptive frontrunner to start at Will linebacker while Gant and Cody Simon have been viewed as the top candidates to start at Mike linebacker, but Gaoteote could factor into the rotation at either spot if he’s cleared to play.
For the first two weeks of camp, however, Washington said he’s been more concerned with helping Gaoteote and all of the linebackers continue to develop as football players than he has been with how he will divide up playing time at each linebacker spot.
“Right now, our singular focus, when we press play and we watch tape is to improve. Because you can’t worry about it. Every day, these guys, we gotta roll. Every day, we gotta get better, we have to be efficient in our time,” Washington said. “I think about it obviously, but our focus right now is to get everybody ready and when we get closer to the game, we’ll handle that at the appropriate time.