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Tough decisions remain for USC's opt outs

Erik McKinney09/25/20
Article written by:On3 imageErik McKinney


USC Football @ Stanford 2018
USC Football opens up conference play with a visit to Palo Alto, CA to take on the Stanford Cardinal.

USC defensive tackle Jay Tufele and offensive guard Alijah Vera-Tucker both announced they would opt out of the 2020 season and make themselves eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft. But that was before the Pac-12 announced there would be a fall season, and now head coach Clay Helton said conversations are ongoing with both players, who would likely be eligible to return to the team if they decide to do so.

Both players would be major keys to the offensive and defensive lines–especially Vera-Tucker, who would likely slide out from left guard to left tackle and protect quarterback Kedon Slovis’ blindside.

Helton said nothing has changed at this point regarding the status of both players. Tufele announced his decision to declare for the draft on Aug. 19, while Vera-Tucker did so on Sept. 9.

Helton said conversations are ongoing with both players, as they will continue to take in all available information before finalizing whatever decision they feel is best for them. It’s an interesting decision for both players, as each has been talked about as a potential first-round pick, but both could be leaving something on the table by not playing this season.

Tufele has the accolades–All-Pac-12 First team last year, second team the year before–and should grade out well on film. Vera-Tucker was regarded as USC’s best offensive lineman last year, and that was on a line that included first-round NFL draft selection Austin Jackson. But both could have a chance to improve their draft stock by returning.

The information both players had when making their decision to opt out was that the Pac-12 would potentially try to play a season that began sometime after January 1. That was always going to be a difficult situation for players eyeing the NFL Draft, as the season would take up the time they are typically training for the NFL Combine. Now, with a shortened fall season, some of the players who opted out in other conferences that canceled or postponed have returned to their programs, including potential first-round selections from Ohio State, guard Wyatt Davis and cornerback Shaun Wade.

The process to return for players who have yet to sign with an agent will likely be far easier than for those who have signed. Vera-Tucker reportedly has not signed with an agent while Tufele has.

Helton said waivers are being put in place for these special circumstances and other schools have been able to apply those waivers. Conversations between the USC coaching staff and the Tufele and Vera-Tucker families are ongoing, Helton said. Ultimately, he’s confident they will make the best decisions for themselves.

Slovis knows how important Vera-Tucker could be to the offense this season, so while he’s not quite been openly recruiting him, he has joined the conversation.

Slovis said he’s spoken to Vera-Tucker and probably will speak to him a little more as fall camp creeps closer. But Slovis added that he knows ultimately Vera-Tucker will make the decision, so he’s not applying too much pressure. But it’s clear where Slovis stands if it was up to him.

“He’s a great player and we’d love to have him back,” Slovis said.

One player the Trojans will get back is wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. The junior wide receiver was another player on the list of potential departures, and he said it wasn’t always a guarantee he would return.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it,” St. Brown said of potentially opting out of the winter/spring season to declare for the draft. “But I was in no rush.”

St. Brown said he saw no point in declaring at this stage, as a regular season typically results in players announcing those decisions in January. St. Brown has been training every day as if a season was going to happen this fall, and now he’s looking to cash in on all the work he’s done.

“I’m excited to actually play this year,” he said.

But Helton indicated that there could potentially be other players who aren’t completely set on returning. He said Tufele and Vera-Tucker are the two who have announced, but he wouldn’t comment on their status or the status of other players until fall camp begins on Oct. 9. At that point, he will announce the full list of “who’s here and who’s not.”

“I don’t think all decisions are final one way or the other,” Helton said of players looking to return or leave. “There are some tough decisions to be made and I want every man to have the privacy to be able to have the time over these next two weeks to make their personal decision.”