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USC offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker declares for NFL draft

USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker in the first half during against Arizona.
USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker in the first half against Arizona on Sept. 29, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Another top prospect and key returner is cutting short his USC career to declare for the NFL draft.

Alijah Vera-Tucker, a potential first-round talent who was set to anchor the Trojans offensive line, announced Wednesday that he will opt out of the upcoming Pac-12 season, whenever that may be, to train for the 2021 draft.

“Best believe I’m going to miss this family” he wrote on Twitter. “There is nothing like putting that USC uniform and running out of that tunnel at the Coli with y’all. I know that the climb to greatness won’t stop for any of us.”

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Vera-Tucker is the second Trojan starter in the trenches to declare his intention to skip the season. Defensive tackle Jay Tufele announced last month that he would enter the draft and signed with an agent, leaving USC shorthanded on its defensive front.

Losing Vera-Tucker is an even more devastating blow to an offensive line that could ill afford to lose any depth. As a sophomore last season, Vera-Tucker emerged as USC’s most consistent lineman from his spot at left guard, earning All-Pac-12 honors by season’s end. His standout season nearly convinced him to declare for the draft last winter, but he chose to return with the promise of replacing Austin Jackson, who was drafted in the first round, at left tackle.

Without him -- and both of last season’s starting tackles -- there are no obvious options to anchor the left side of USC’s line. Jalen McKenzie, who started at right guard much of last season, is expected to kick out to right tackle. Redshirt freshman Jason Rodriguez or redshirt seniors Frank Martin or Liam Jimmons could be a candidates to fill the role, but neither has spent meaningful time at the position.

After being shut down because of positive cases of the coronavirus, the USC football and men’s water polo programs have been cleared to work out.

USC could have to turn to a freshman at left tackle. If so, four-star tackle Jonah Monheim, the highest-rated lineman in the Trojans’ incoming recruiting class, would appear to be the most obvious option.

None of the available options are likely to fill the massive void left by Vera-Tucker, whom some draft analysts had already slotted as a first-round pick in 2021. And with three starting spots now in need of replacing up front, USC will have plenty of questions to answer when it does play again.

The question now turns to whether other Trojans might opt out before then. Safety Talanoa Hufanga has also been projected as a possible first-round pick. Wideout Amon-ra St. Brown is viewed as a likely top-100 selection, while fellow wideout Tyler Vaughns nearly declared after last season.

Last week, shortly after Tufele made his decision, USC coach Clay Helton said he urged players to take their time in deciding on the draft.

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“You have all the way until the middle of January to make that decision,” Helton said. “Don’t rush the decision.”

Less than a week later, one of the Trojans’ most talented prospects announced that he would opt out.


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