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Q&A With Jay Tufele: USC Career, Opting Out Of 2020 Season, NFL Goals

Jay Tufele makes the tackle for USC.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 27: Jay Tufele #78 and John Houston Jr. #10 of the USC Trojans tackle Nate Stanley #4 of the Iowa Hawkeyes during the first half of the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl at SDCCU Stadium on December 27, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Jay Tufele was a dominant force for the USC Trojans during the 2019 season, finishing with 41 total tackles and 3.5 sacks. The college football world wasn't able to see him this past season, however, since he opted out due to concerns regarding COVID-19.

Although he opted out of this past season, Tufele remains high on most analysts' draft boards. Most projections have the USC product coming off the board during the second round.

When it comes to stopping the run, Tufele is one of the best in the business in that department. Teams constantly double teamed him to make sure he wouldn't destroy their game plan. He's also a disrupter in the passing game too due to his explosiveness and quick hands. Those are traits that should carry over to the NFL.

We caught up with Jay Tufele to discuss his decision to opt out of the 2020 season, how his preparation has been for the NFL Draft, what he expects from himself at the next level, and much more.

The Spun: How has this draft process been for you?

Jay Tufele: It’s been a dream come true, to be honest. First off, I’ve been working the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. Each day training for the NFL is a blessing, whether it’s field work or board work. I just pour everything I have into this process. I’m out here in Santa Ana and I’ve been working really hard with a bunch of great players.

The Spun: You opted out of the 2020 season. How’d you handle that time away from the field?

JT: I opted out because I had a lot of things going on. My family had Covid - it affected my sister to the point where she was in the ER and we didn’t know if she was going to make it. You also had the Pac-12 canceling its season at first, so there was uncertainty there. I had this opportunity of a lifetime and it’s always been my dream to make the NFL. I talked to my family about this decision, and they all supported me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a competitor. But at the end of the day, I opted out and I don’t regret it. I’m in the best shape of my life and I’m smarter than I’ve ever been. Watching my teammates ball out at USC made me happy and motivated me. I’ve been putting my head down and pushing myself to new limits every day.

The Spun: What do you think scouts will see when watching your 2019 tape?

JT: I showed how tough I was and how powerful I can be. The first game of the season I actually cut my right index finger to the point where I could see the bone. I had to get stitches on the sideline and I kept thinking ‘I need to be back. I need to go back in.’ I played with an injured hand for most of the season, but that didn’t stop me from being who I was. I’m so excited because I know what I’m capable of when I’m at 50 percent. And when I’m 100 percent, it’s just crazy.

The Spun: Are there some defensive players in the NFL you watch on film?

JT: I love Aaron Donald and Kenny Clark. Those are two of the best at what they do. I look up to them because they work so hard day in and day out. I can see similar traits in the way they play the game.

The Spun: What are you hoping to show at your Pro Day?

JT: I want to show all the hard work and everything I’ve done over the year. I want to prove that I’m faster and stronger than I was at USC. To be honest, I have a chip on my shoulder. That’s how I’ve been my whole life. I got to prove at my pro day that I’m that guy.

The Spun: Which NFL quarterback do you want to make a big play on?

JT: I’d say Big Ben. Watching him over the years, he’s an awesome player. Being able to hit him would let me know that I’m officially in the league.

The Spun: What would you say is an area of your game that needs improvement?

JT: One of my coaches told me ‘Jay, if you don’t get tired you’ll make even more plays.’I took that to heart, so I’ve been working hard. I do a bunch of core routines at PT and started doing some rigorous workouts to improve my stamina. I feel like I won’t get tired when it’s the fourth quarter and I’ll be feeling good. That’s definitely something I want to work on.

The Spun: Do you have any rookie year goals?

JT: First, whatever team I go to I want to make sure I earn my coaches and teammates’ trust. I want to start, of course. If I start, I want to be able to wreak havoc. I want to win games and eventually lead my team. The accolades will then come - I’d love to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. That’s something I want to be able to do. And then, of course, I want to win a Super Bowl and eventually get that yellow jacket. I aim high with my goals.

The Spun: How are you going to react when you hear your name called in the draft?

JT: I’m just going to probably cry. Just speaking about it hits deep. It’s something that I’ve been working for. I have a lot of people that believe in me and I really don’t want to let them down. When I hear my name during the draft it’ll be the greatest moment in my life.

Tufele should provide an immediate impact to an NFL team, especially since he's a three-down defensive tackle. We'll find out where he'll land next month, as the draft will kick off on April 29.

You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.