Sometime late Saturday or early Sunday, Noa Pola-Gates will deliver his college decision.
Nebraska. Southern California. Arizona State. The four-star safety from Williams Field High School in Gilbert, Arizona, has compelling reasons to choose any of the three.
But for Pola-Gates, the location of his announcement is just as meaningful as the act itself. He will reveal his pick during the Polynesian Bowl, which kicks off at 7 p.m. Hawaii Time — 11 p.m. Central — from Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium in a game televised on CBS Sports Network.
Pola-Gates’ heritage is so important to him that he opted to make the announcement this weekend instead of at the more prestigious All-American Bowl in San Antonio earlier this month. He will give his full Polynesian name and area of origin before declaring a school.
His mother, Amy Pola-Gates, said the opportunity to have his big moment in Hawaii was too much to pass up.
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“His eyes just got so big when he heard,” she said. “He said, ‘I’ve always dreamt of doing the hat thing.’ This bowl was the first one to offer that to him. To do it in the islands and around island people and for an island event and his culture means a lot.”
Nebraska is the favorite, according to recruiting experts and many family members, to land the 5-foot-11, 180-pound defensive back known for his crushing hits. He took an official visit to Lincoln on a whim for the Minnesota game in October to support his cousin, Keana Pola, a softball recruit who signed with Nebraska in November. He left feeling a connection to coaches and players that surprised him along with a sense of awe for the fan base.
The Husker calls were again persistent at the All-American Bowl, where NU signees Wandale Robinson, Bryce Benhart and Ty Robinson attempted to persuade Pola-Gates to join them. The safety roomed all week with Ty Robinson, who played for a nearby rival of Williams Field. He also laid a big hit on Wandale Robinson during the game — leaving both on the ground momentarily — that led to joking between the two afterward.
Nebraska’s impact had to be strong to compete with Pola- Gates’ other suitors. Despite an official visit to Alabama and talks with coach Nick Saban, he removed the Tide from his finalists leading up to the Dec. 19 early signing period.
Arizona State, meanwhile, is a hometown school that was among the first to offer a scholarship. And USC holds multiple family ties. His cousin, Isaiah Pola-Mao, is coming off his redshirt freshman season at safety. His uncle, Troy Polamalu, also starred with the Trojans before a hall of fame-level NFL career with the Steelers.
Pola-Gates will wear No. 3 on Team Mauka. His cousin Matthew Pola-Mao — a defensive line prospect from Chandler, Arizona, who will take an official visit to Nebraska later this month — will wear No. 90 for Team Makai.
Pola-Gates was a two-way standout in high school but dominated in the secondary last fall. He recorded 57 tackles, five interceptions, seven pass deflections and a blocked field goal in 12 games.
“He’s a get-after-it type of football player,” Williams Field coach Steve Campbell said. “He loves the game. He has fun every day out there at practice and in the games. He has a passion for it and plays fast and hard. He loves contact and has athletic ability to be special.”