CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple: Get to know UW Huskies LB Ralen Goforth, transfer from USC

Apr 5, 2023, 12:34 PM

Ralen Goforth UW Huskies...

Ralen Goforth of the USC Trojans celebrates his pick-six against Rice on Sept. 3, 2022. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

SEATTLE — It was in the aftermath of soul-crushing defeat, and amid the corresponding emotional release, that Ralen Goforth learned he had gone viral.

His tackle of Utah quarterback Cam Rising in the third quarter of last season’s Pac-12 Championship? Even on the field, it didn’t immediately register as anything special.

“I didn’t even know I knocked his helmet off,” Goforth said after the UW Huskies’ spring practice on Monday morning. “Somebody on the sideline said, ‘Oh my God, you knocked his helmet off.’”

Goforth’s USC Trojans lost the game and were relegated from a potential College Football Playoff bid to the Cotton Bowl, so he wasn’t thinking about the hit as he wept with his teammates in the locker room. Through his tears, he noticed a stream of notifications pinging his phone. “It’s all, like, positive things,” he said.

The hit might have been among the first items that came to mind for Washington fans when they learned of Goforth’s transfer less than three weeks later. It’s the kind of play that largely has been missing from the Huskies’ linebacker corps since players like Keishawn Bierria, Azeem Victor and Ben Burr-Kirven made names for themselves during the peak Chris Petersen days.

And it’s the kind of play that Goforth will have to earn the right to make in 2023, even as an experienced senior, because linebacker finally appears to be a position of strength for the Huskies again.

Here are five other things to know about Goforth, who spoke with the media for the first time at Washington after Monday’s practice.

1. He wasn’t — and isn’t — concerned about the depth chart

Scan USC’s 2019 signing class, and find Goforth roughly somewhere in the middle, a three-star prospect from powerhouse Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco. His older brother, Randall, played cornerback for UCLA, and Ralen took one of his official visits to check out the Bruins before settling on USC (he also visited Oregon, and had an offer from Washington, among several others).

He was a top-500 prospect. He made 103 tackles for a team that played in the CIF Division 1 title game. He was in demand. But he also knew there were bigger recruits at his position on the Trojans roster.

(As a quick aside, Goforth played at Bosco with each of the following: former Washington CB Trent McDuffie; Oregon State QB DJ Uiagalelei; former USC CB Chris Steele; and Boise State RB George Holani, to name only a handful of his Power 5-bound teammates.)

At USC, he arrived to a linebacker room that had welcomed five-star prospect Palaie Gaoteote IV and top-100, four-star prospect Solomon Tuliaupupu in the 2018 class. The Trojans also signed four-star prospect Maninoa Tufono in Goforth’s class.

“Coming out of high school, I came into a position where there were a lot of guys ahead of me — a lot of four-stars, five-stars, guys that were ranked ahead of me coming out of high school,” Goforth said. “I worked my way to being second-string my freshman year, and from that, I earned a job as a starter.

“Being in a three-man rotation, that’s never been an issue for me, when it comes to competition. Me personally, I don’t shy away from it. I attack it.”

This mentality explains why he chose to spend his final college season at Washington despite the presence of Alphonzo Tuputala (every-game starter in 2022), Edefuan Ulofoshio (a preseason All-American in 2021 before he got hurt) and Carson Bruener (a part-time starter in 2021) on the depth chart.

So far this spring, Tuputala and Ulofoshio have taken most of the reps with the No. 1 defense, though it’s obvious Goforth will at least be part of the rotation. He’s mixed in with the starters and made some plays with the second-string defense, too. Goforth played 306 snaps in 11 games for the Trojans last season, per Pro Football Focus, with four starts. He started 13 games from 2020-21.

“That’s what I love about this linebacker corps — it’s not about who’s going out there first, who’s going out there second,” Goforth said. “It’s about each and every one of us pushing each other to make each other better. When I first came in, guys wanted to put their arm around me, help me figure out the schematics of the program, how to do things, how things are done up here.”

2. He didn’t know anyone on Washington’s coaching staff before entering the portal.

Linebackers coach William Inge was the first to make contact after Goforth entered the transfer portal, but they had no prior relationship.

“When I came up here, and when he came down to Southern California to meet me and my family, it was the first time meeting for all of us,” he said. “But I could really tell Coach Inge cares about his players, he’s a genuine person and he’s going to keep it real with you. That’s one thing I love about Coach Inge.”

Initially, Goforth figured he would leave USC for “down south or toward the Midwest, east coast,” but his official visit to UW swayed him.

“I loved the coaching staff and I loved the culture,” he said.

3. On his visit, he asked: ‘Who’s coming back?’

Just as Michael Penix Jr. wanted to watch film of Washington’s returning offensive players before choosing UW as his transfer destination in 2022, Goforth asked coaches in mid-December what the roster would look like in 2023.

And not just the defense.

“Because the offense can complement the defense, as well, by putting up points,” he said. “They were just rattling off names, and I loved what I was hearing. This is a group that’s hungry, not just to win the Pac-12, but win a national title, and their goal was aligned with mine.”

Initially, Goforth asked his new teammates, because he was curious: “Why did y’all decide to come back? They’re all saying the same thing … not only to help them, of course, with draft stocks and stuff like that, but also, this team is working toward something bigger than each individual person.”

4. He doesn’t downplay Washington’s Nov. 4 trip to USC

If their seasons unfold the way so many expect, the Huskies and Trojans should both be contending for a Pac-12 title when they meet in Los Angeles. Goforth doesn’t deny that the reunion will evoke certain feelings.

“It’s going to be a great game, great atmosphere,” he said. “It’s going to be special, of course. I can sit here and say it’s just going to be treated like every other game, but of course it’s not going to be just any other game for me. It’s going to be one that I’m going to take personal. But at the same time, I have a job to do when I go out there and play.”

USC’s roster also includes a former Washington player: cornerback Jacobe Covington, a four-star recruit in the 2020 class.

5. He has a unique perspective on Caleb Williams vs. Michael Penix Jr.

In addition to the potential stakes, this year’s UW-USC game is alluring for its quarterback matchup: the reigning Heisman Trophy winner against UW’s Heisman hopeful.

Near as I can tell, Goforth and Covington are the only college players to have practiced against both of them. Or, as Goforth put it: “Leaving one Heisman quarterback, coming to potentially the next Heisman quarterback.”

“Man, I’m seeing some great throws,” he said of Penix. “Not only just what you guys see, but I’ll see some things in PRPs when it’s just us. He’s making throws that I haven’t seen — throws that I’ve only seen from one other person, if that. He’s the real deal.”

Goforth playfully declined to compare the two.

“Those two, man, you really see the desire to get better each and every day,” he said. “I see Mike put in all the extra work. He deserves everything coming his way, for real.”

This article was originally published at OnMontlake.com, the new home for Christian Caple’s full UW Huskies football coverage. Subscribe to On Montlake for full access to in-depth UW coverage.

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