USC’s staunch defensive line will have a key loss to overcome if there is Pac-12 football this spring. Redshirt junior defensive lineman Jay Tufele announced Wednesday via Twitter that he will opt out of the upcoming season and declare for the 2021 NFL Draft.
“I have come to the point where it is time for me to do what is best for my career and family,” Tufele wrote in the Twitter statement, also thanking his family, academic staff, coaches, teammates and fans for their support. “Although it pains me to leave all the people who have become so instrumental in my life, know that I will carry all of you with me in my heart as I embark on the next phase of my journey.”
USC led the Pac-12 South in 2019 with 35 sacks, 4.5 of which came courtesy of Tufele. He added two more tackles for loss on the season en route to earning a spot on the All-Pac-12 First Team and winning USC’s Defensive Lineman of the Year award for the second straight season.
Tufele appeared in all of USC’s 25 games across his redshirt freshman and redshirt sophomore seasons, totaling 65 tackles — including 7.5 sacks as well as 11 tackles for a combined loss of 47 yards. He also returned a fumble for a 48-yard touchdown against Utah and blocked a potential game-tying field goal toward the end of a win over Washington State in 2018.
Tufele has been pegged as a potential first round pick in the draft and ranks at No. 22 on football analyst and draft expert Mel Kiper’s Big Board.
He is the first USC football player to opt out of a potential 2021 spring season, a move which may become common across the NCAA over the next several months due to both coronavirus concerns and the timing of the season just before the late-April draft.
“When I reflect on my time at USC, I think of all the memorable interactions with you all that have helped me grow,” Tufele’s statement read. “USC and Los Angeles have forced me to stretch myself physically and mentally and I am forever thankful. I will always cherish the positive memories made.”
Tufele’s decision leaves sophomore Drake Jackson as the likely centerpiece of the Trojans’ defensive line efforts in 2021. Jackson led the team in sacks and tackles for loss last year with 6.5 and 11.5, respectively.