The USC Trojans, who will open “fall” practice on Friday, got an early holiday gift when all-star junior offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker announced through a video that he will rejoin his teammates for the abbreviated seven-game season.
Tucker (6-4, 310), who will likely play the left tackle position this upcoming season, had originally decided to get ready for the NFL draft because he thought the Trojans wouldn’t be playing in the fall due to COVID-19. However, with the Pac-12 electing to play in the fall, he reevaluated his decision and went with his heart knowing he could not only have a chance to improve his draft status in a good performance without interfering with next spring’s NFL combine and draft. Some draft experts have indicated that Alijah, a preseason All-American, could be a first-round pick in 2021.
In his video, Vera-Tucker said, “The recent announcement that USC is able to play this season has allowed me to reevaluate my situation. The opportunity to rejoin my teammates, represent the Trojan Family, continue to advance towards my degree and compete for a Pac-12 championship this season is something I could not pass up.
“I’m going to get to lead my teammates down the tunnel of the Coliseum next month and show the college world that the Trojans are ready to play.”
The Trojans’ offensive line is the biggest question mark of the 2020 season, and both offensive tackle spots were up for grabs with first-round draft selection and left tackle Austin Jackson having gone to the NFL and right tackle Drew Richmond having used up his eligibility. Vera-Tucker actually considered the best blocking offensive lineman in 2019.
The return of Vera-Tucker means that with his expected move from left guard to left tackle, the Trojans may test returning junior starting offensive right guard Jalen McKenzie at right tackle or take a strong look at sophomore Jason Rodriguez. The other O-line spots figure to filled by returning junior starting center Brett Neilon, sophomore guard Justin Dedich, who also can play center, along with McKenzie returning to right guard if he isn’t moved to right tackle.
It should be noted that Trojans talented sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis put in a strong effort to try and convince Vera-Tucker to return upon the announcement that the Pac-12 will be playing this fall. Knowing that the important left tackle spot greatly helps protect Slovis’s blindside, the return of Vera-Tucker had to be a huge relief for the Trojans quarterback, who is being hailed as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.
Vera-Tucker had not signed with an agent prior to his announcement, so his returning to the team had virtually no complications. No official word on junior All-Pac-12 defensive tackle Jay Tufele, who has signed with an agent but is not expected to return.