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Alijah Vera-Tucker and Jay Tufele haven’t said if they’ll return for USC

USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker adjusts his helmet.
USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker declared for the NFL draft earlier this month after the Pac-12 postponed the 2020 season. Will he play for USC again now that the season has been restored?
(Katherine Lotze / Getty Images)

As top prospects opted out one by one this offseason, wary of an uncertain college football calendar, USC’s top returning wideout considered following the same path.

But Amon-ra St. Brown was in no hurry to make that leap, even as he watched teammates Alijah Vera-Tucker and Jay Tufele declare their intentions to skip the upcoming season. He couldn’t understand why anyone would announce before January, when top prospects normally are faced with that decision.

“I was out there treating every day like there was a season,” St. Brown said. “I wanted to play — that was my intention. And as we look now, we’re going to have a season, and I’m excited to play this year.”

A spring season might’ve changed that calculus. But patience ultimately paid off for St. Brown, and with the Pac-12 set to return in early November, the focus now turns to whether the two Trojans who already declared their intentions might change their mind.

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Neither player’s status has changed yet, per USC coach Clay Helton. Vera-Tucker, an offensive lineman, has yet to sign with an agent and presumably still could return without consequence. Tufele, however, already signed with an agent. Under normal circumstances, the defensive lineman would be unable to return.

Here are five questions facing USC as the Trojans prepare to start a delayed and shortened college football season.

If he chooses, Tufele could enter the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Reinstatement process, in order to regain his amateur status, similar to the process top prospects like Minnesota wideout Rashod Bateman have undertaken. But the NCAA would have to grant a special waiver, and without precedent, it’s unclear how such cases will be handled.

“We’re seeing across the country there are some waivers being put in place just because of these special situations that are happening, especially with not knowing we’re going to have a season,” Helton said. “There have been other schools where waivers have been applied. If they choose to do that, we would obviously look into that. But first, we’re going to let them absorb the information.”

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They’ll presumably have two weeks to decide, with USC hoping to start practice Oct. 9.

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis said he’s discussed the decision with Vera-Tucker, who was slated to protect his blindside.

“We’d love to have him back,” Slovis said. But the quarterback was wary of “applying too much pressure because that’s his decision to make.”

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Helton didn’t rule out other players deciding to opt out between now and the opening of fall practice. Safety Talanoa Hufanga is believed to be a potential first-round pick next spring, while wideout Tyler Vaughns briefly considered leaving for the NFL after last season.

St. Brown never let himself worry too much about that decision. Instead, he spent the last few months focused on making the best of what figures to be his final college season.

According to Helton, he’s well on his way.

“I’ve known him since he was a freshman in high school,” Helton said. “I’ve never seen him in this great of shape or so far advanced than where he’s at right now. I truly believe he’ll separate himself among other receivers in this country.”


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