HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Just a few football fields from where he was raised in Halawa, Palaie Gaoteote will finally have his opportunity to play inside of Aloha Stadium on Saturday.
Although he celebrated his senior season in Las Vegas, this Saturday will be a true homecoming game for the linebacker from Bishop Gorman that has scouts salivating at his potential, given his five-star reputation and ability to make game-changing plays on defense.
A USC recruit, Gaoteote has spent a significant amount of time in recent years in Las Vegas, playing for one of the top high school programs in the country. But even though he has earned numerous accolades for his play on the field, one of them stands above the rest.
"It means everything," Gaoteote said of playing in this Saturday's Polynesian Bowl. "Being a Hawaii boy, living in Vegas, just trying to rep the 808… But then just to finally come back home and play in front of everybody that I'm originally from and just represent my uncle and my family, means everything to me."
Born and raised in Hawaii, Palaie Gaoteote is proud of his roots. Nearly 2,700 miles away from his home, Gaoteote made a name for himself at Bishop Gorman as one of the nation's best linebacker prospects. But even with all the expectations on his shoulders, Gaoteote keeps himself centered.
After all, he's playing for himself, his family and most importantly, his culture.
"I take everything into it. It's something I don't take lightly … I'm kind of speechless about it … Having the Polynesian Bowl now represents me. It represents my family, my culture and just to be a part of that, I don't know how to explain it," he said.
His uncle, Ma'a Tanuvasa, paved the way for Gaoteote and showed him the path of becoming not just a great football player, but also a leader.
Gaoteote told Hawaii News Now that once his plane touched down in Honolulu, he was overcome with excitement of just being back on his home turf. He even told some of the other Polynesian Bowl participants where to eat while they're on Oahu.
"Right after we got of the plane, I was talking to all the guys we get off the plane with, and I told them the first spot we're going to is Zippy's," he said with a laugh. "All rice, Korean chicken."
While Gaoteote's next stop from the airport was Zippy's, he's never forgotten his place in the grand scheme Polynesian football. He understands that he's not just a normal collegiate prospect - being one of two five star recruit Polynesian recruits in this year's game puts some weight on his shoulders to perform.
"I don't know if you'd call it pressure, it's definitely something that we have to carry," he said. "To be two Polynesian players the way that we're at right now is just trying to trailblaze everything for the rest of the Polynesian kids. I think that's the biggest goal for us too."
As for how hard he's going to play now that he finally gets to compete in his backyard, Gaoteote didn't hold back.
"I really don't like quarterbacks. So probably any quarterback that's out there, I'm probably trying to get at," he said.