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USC coaches remember Max Tuerk as giving person on and off field

USC junior Max Tuerk, shown in 2012.
USC’s Max Tuerk, shown in 2012, was a standout multi-positional lineman for the Trojans.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

He was a Freshman All-American at USC, played left tackle and all three positions on the interior line and was drafted by the Chargers.

But Max Tuerk, who died Saturday at 26, was remembered Monday by Trojans coaches and teammates for his spirit and generosity.

“He was the definition of the greatest gift you can give somebody is your time — he gave people his time,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “He was an unbelievable leader in the fact that he could go to somebody individually and spend time with them and give them his time and his experiences.”

Tuerk died while hiking with family members in the Cleveland National Forest, the family said in a statement Sunday.

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Tuerk came to USC in 2012 after playing at Santa Margarita High.

At the time, Lane Kiffin was the head coach, Ed Orgeron the recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach, and Helton the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach. By the time Tuerk finished his career, all three would serve as his Trojans head coaches, along with Steve Sarkisian.

“This is awful. So sad,” tweeted Kiffin after hearing the news Sunday. “Praying for family and friends. I always loved Max and one of my favorites. #FightOnForever, Max!!!!”

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“Great young man, I loved him,” said Orgeron, USC’s interim coach in 2013, who guided Louisiana State to the national championship last season.

When Tuerk was in high school, Orgeron evaluated his game tape and also visited Santa Margarita several times. He credited former Santa Margarita coach Harry Welch for predicting Tuerk’s success.

“Harry is somebody that I really, really respect,” Orgeron said. “And his recommendation was sterling for Max. ... He said, ‘Coach, this guy is going to play for you as a freshman, he can play any position, and he’s going to be an All-American and he’s going to play in the pros.’”

As a USC freshman, Tuerk was a reserve early in the season but started the final five games at left tackle — the first freshman in Trojans history to start at the position.

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Tuerk’s toughness and character stood out, Orgeron said.

“He was, ‘Yes sir, no sir,’ ” Orgeron said. “Always smiling, and a hard worker.”

Kevin Graf was a junior offensive linemen in 2012 when Tuerk joined the team as part of a 12-player recruiting class that included receiver Nelson Agholor, defensive lineman Leonard Williams and offensive lineman Zach Banner. Graf said Tuerk caught on immediately and embraced being part of a close-knit group of offensive linemen.

“He was just like the ultimate competitor,” Graf said. ”He was the ultimate teammate.”

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Graf said he attended the Stagecoach Festival for country music and more with Tuerk multiple times, and that all of the linemen bonded during dinners and position-group outings.

Max Tuerk, a star at Santa Margarita High School and USC before being drafted by the Chargers in 2016, has died at the age of 26.

“He wasn’t so much a leader by ‘Rah-Rah,’ ” Graf said. “He was lead by example. ... He was a passionate guy and put everything he had into the game and his relationships outside of football.

“It’s just unfortunate to see him go so early.”

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Tuerk was All-Pac-12 Conference in 2014. As a senior, he played the first five games before suffering a knee injury.

Tuerk had “a captain’s mentality all the way through,” Helton said. “He was Mr. Consistency. He was the blue-collar worker that showed up every day and gave his absolute best at everything he did. Everything.

“Not just the game but everything that guy did he did with his best effort at all times. He was the model of consistency, a model of what a Trojan should be and the model of what a teammate should be.”


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