Todd Orlando arrived early for a USC linebackers meeting, but he wasn’t the first one in the room.
Instead, sitting at his desk was sophomore Ralen Goforth. His playbook was open, the Arizona State depth chart was next to him, and on his iPad he was watching film the coaching staff had cut up for the players to prepare for Saturday’s season opener.
Orlando was so proud of the underclassman that he took a picture of Goforth’s early-morning study and sent it to the linebacker group chat. It’s this type of behavior that has the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach describing Goforth as “a pro” entering his second season.
“I love the way he approaches everything,” Orlando gushed. “He’s very prideful about when he makes mistakes or he’s not sharp in terms of doing stuff, he works his tail off. I’m really, really proud of Ray, I really am.”
There has been similar praise for Goforth since he enrolled early out of St. John Bosco in the winter of 2019. His work ethic gained attention as a true freshman, though given his age it didn’t immediately translate to a role on the field.
But as a sophomore, he may get his chance. Palaie Gaoteote IV is locked in to one of USC’s middle linebacker positions, but the other is still up in the air between Goforth and Kana’i Mauga.
Goforth has had more of a chance to argue his case for the job, given that Mauga was sidelined by a hamstring injury for the early portion of camp. But Mauga is a junior who started eight times last season, recording 61 tackles and two pass breakups while forcing one fumble and intercepting one pass.
“We’ll see how we finish out the week,” Orlando said when asked how he expected to divide time at the spot. “But Kana’i has a lot of experience, he’s a guy we feel comfortable with, so we’ll see how this thing plays out on Saturday. And that’ll be based on who’s running hot, who’s running not.”
Despite the unusual offseason due to the pandemic, Orlando feels confident about where his defense is entering the opener. While the Trojans lost out on some on-field time, Orlando said the cancellation of recruiting trips this summer let the coaches spend more time teaching the defense in team meetings.
So when it came down to training camp, the imperative was to work on tackling and getting off blocks rather than scheme.
“My biggest thing was, I know when I first talked to you guys was, give me a couple weeks to figure out who’s gonna tap out when we do really hard stuff,” Orlando said. “When it got difficult, which group were you concerned about? And there’s not a group that we’re concerned about. I love our approach and I think since the day I’ve gotten here, it was like, ‘OK, let’s do this.’”