On Saturday USC vanquished crosstown rival UCLA, 43-38, in a game that featured a highlight reel interception on the part of USC free safety Isaiah Pola-Mao. The play is eerily reminiscent of the kind of interception his uncle, Troy Polamalu, might have made for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In the second quarter, with UCLA leading 14-7, Pola-Mao faked a blitz of Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, then pulled back and batted the ball out of the air before diving and securing the ball just before it hit the ground.
Pola-Mao (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) finished the game with nine tackles (four solo, five assists) and the aforementioned interception. In five games this season, Pola-Mao has recorded 30 tackles (16 solo), with one tackle for loss, five pass breakups and three fumble recoveries.
Isaiah Pola-Mao’s Career at USC
In 2019, Pola-Mao started 12 of 13 games and contributed 73 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, plus four interceptions and two pass deflections. That was good enough for him to be named USC’s Co-Defensive Perimeter Player of the Year. In 20 career games, he has 111 total tackles (65 solo), including 6.5 tackles for loss, five interceptions and 12 passes defensed.
This year Pola-Mao—a redshirt junior—has been described as “one of the Trojans’ most consistent defensive players,” though he did miss a tackle against UCLA that led directly to a 21-yard touchdown reception.
He does have a history of shoulder injuries, however, having redshirted as a freshman after season-ending shoulder surgery in 2017. He went on to start USC’s first two games in 2018 but dislocated his left shoulder against Stanford, which led to another season-ending surgery.
In 2019, he was ejected for a hit on Oregon wide receiver Juwan Johnson, which led to him sitting out the first half of the team’s following game (at Arizona State).
As a senior safety and wide receiver at Mountain Pointe High in Phoenix, Pola-Mao had 100 tackles and 18 pass deflections and returned three of his 10 interceptions for touchdowns. He also played on Mountain Pointe’s basketball and track teams, competing as a sprinter, hurdler, and on the high jump and long jump teams.
Pola-Mao’s Football Family
While Troy Polamalu is Isaiah’s most famous and accomplished family member, Pola-Mao’s great uncle, Kennedy Polamalu, was a fullback at USC between 1982-85 and is now the running backs coach for the Minnesota Vikings.
Isaiah’s father, Tracey, played football at San Diego State, where he was team captain in 1992 and earned Most Inspirational Player honors. He also played for the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League between 1994-96.
Of course, former Trojans and Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer (Class of 2020). The Steelers drafted Polamalu out of USC with the team’s first-round pick in 2003 (No. 16 overall). In 12 NFL seasons, Polamalu was a part of two Super Bowl winning teams and was named first-team All-Pro four times, as well as Defensive Player of the Year in 2010.
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