Safety Isaiah Pola-Mao will return to USC for his final season

Isaiah Pola-Mao of the USC Trojans intercepts a pass against the UCLA Bruins.
USC safety Isaiah Pola-Mao intercepts a pass against UCLA on Dec. 12 at the Rose Bowl.
(Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

USC’s top safety already declared for the NFL draft. Its top cornerback joined him soon after that announcement.

But Friday, one key piece of the Trojans secondary proclaimed his intent to return for his final season. Safety Isaiah Pola-Mao, who served as one of USC’s captains last season, officially announced he will lead the Trojans defense again in 2021.

“Time to get back to work,” Pola-Mao tweeted Friday morning, along with a video that declared he would “run it back.”

That announcement was expected, especially as the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft passed earlier this week. Still, Pola-Mao’s return is crucial for a USC defense that lost its top playmaker in Pac-12 defensive player of the year Talanoa Hufanga. With Hufanga gone, Pola-Mao will be entrusted with anchoring the back end of a USC defense that will return eight starters.

That defense took a major step forward over the course of a shortened 2020 season, as defensive coordinator Todd Orlando remade the scheme and instituted a more physical brand of defense. That new mind-set proved to be especially transformative for USC’s safeties, as Hufanga was named a consensus All-American and Pola-Mao also made his impact felt over six games.

Mike Bohn, USC’s athletic director, says the football program is making progress under Clay Helton. “I can’t think of one area where we didn’t improve.”

Jan. 18, 2021


How that defense will look next season remains to be seen, but Pola-Mao’s return should help matters. While Hufanga declared for the draft late last month, Pola-Mao still has work to do in proving his NFL pedigree. He should get that chance in 2021 on a unit that should be one of the Pac-12’s stronger secondaries.