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USC getting a boost as Alijah Vera-Tucker changes his mind and decides he’ll return

USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker adjusts his helmet.
With the Pac-12 set to start its season in November, offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker announced Tuesday he will play for the Trojans this season.
(Katherine Lotze / Getty Images)

The last glaring question facing USC ahead of its restart was answered Tuesday, as Alijah Vera-Tucker announced he will opt back in to anchor the Trojans’ offensive front this season.

One of the Pac-12’s best-graded linemen last season, Vera-Tucker announced less than a month ago he would sit out the upcoming season to focus on the 2021 NFL draft, leaving USC without its prospective left tackle and drastically shorten its depth up front. But when the Pac-12 last month solidified plans to play a seven-game, conference-only season this year instead of next, that calculus apparently changed.

“The opportunity to rejoin my teammates, represent the Trojan family, continue to advance my degree, and compete for a Pac-12 championship this season is something I cannot pass up,” Vera-Tucker said on social media. “I’m eager to lead my teammates down the tunnel of the Coliseum next month to show the college football world that the Trojans are ready to play.”

Returning a potential first-round pick at left tackle certainly will help matters. With USC’s two starting tackles from last season gone, Vera-Tucker was the obvious choice to replace Austin Jackson, a first-round pick in April’s draft, on the left side. Without him the Trojans were facing a significant shuffle up front.

The offensive line remains short on experience. Vera-Tucker has taken only limited repetitions at left tackle, after he started all 13 games at left guard last season. The redshirt junior, who nearly declared for the draft last fall, is expected to shift back to the interior once he reaches the NFL. But his presence as blindside protector to quarterback Kedon Slovis should help stabilize an offense that returns nine of 11 starters.

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Slovis said last month that he reached out to Vera-Tucker about opting back in.

Former USC defensive lineman Jay Tufele will continue preparing for the NFL draft as his sister, Noreen, continues to recover from a serious case of COVID-19.

“Alijah is a great friend of mine, and I want him to make the best decisions possible,” Slovis said. “But he’s a great player, and we’d love to have him back.”

While Vera-Tucker’s return marked a major coup for USC’s offensive line, its defensive line wasn’t as fortunate. Defensive tackle Jay Tufele told The Times on Monday night that he would not opt back in, choosing instead to continue training for the draft.

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