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Musings from Arledge: The Heart-Wrenching Story of Very Young Jay Toia

The world is a sad place for many, and the pandemic has only made it worse. Probably the most devastating tale of woe to arise out of the pandemic belongs to one Jay Toia, a young athlete from Simi Valley. 


Let me warn you: what follows may be disturbing to young readers or, really, anybody with a human heart. Those who are not able to deal with the emotional pain of one of the saddest stories in human history are encouraged to stop reading right now. But for those who persevere, the uplifting against-all-odds ending will be worth it. 

Jay Toia committed to play football at USC – he calls USC his “childhood dream school” – and spent the last semester learning USC’s playbook, defensive audibles, and other sensitive information known only to USC coaches, players, and random homeless guys who infiltrate the program. 

Yet just recently Toia entered the transfer portal and has now committed to UCLA, where he can instantly download all of this sensitive information to said dream school’s most-hated rival and deliver a devastating body blow to dreamy USC in the process. Why would he do this? I’ll let Jay speak for himself: 

“A week ago today, I made one of the toughest decisions in my young life as a 17-year-old…I entered the transfer portal from my childhood dream school USC Trojans. The 2020 pandemic was tragic to so many that lost so much. For me and especially my parents, we felt forced to make a major decision signing with USC based on limited information because of Covid19 restrictions. We were not able to take any official or unofficial visits to any of the other schools on our short list such as Michigan, Utah, UCLA, Miami among others.”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Jay Toia is a victim of COVID. Well, COVID and youth. Let’s all keep in mind as we read this sad tale that his is a “young life” and he is merely “a 17-year old.” Young Jay just wasn’t ready for a world this hard, this cold. He just took the training wheels off his bike last month. The little guy is doing the very best he can.

But the pandemic got him. Pandemics are unpredictable. From the beginning health and governmental officials have struggled to understand the disease so they could find the right combination between freedom and virus-containment measures. And in pandemics, sometimes unpredictable, difficult-to-explain things just happen, and we have to learn to live with them. 

There is no real scientific explanation for the COVID ring that surrounded Westwood, California from the start of the pandemic until sometime last week when little Jay could finally set foot on the UCLA campus. All we know is that when the virus circled Westwood, its presence was so thick that you could almost see it with the naked eye. The Westwood Covid Ring made it virtually impossible for high school athletes to get in or out of the city, effectively cutting off the UCLA campus from the rest of Southern California, like some sort of biological Berlin Wall. Travel to the UCLA campus from Simi Valley was impossible. Multiple North Korean defectors, those three guys who escaped from Alcatraz, and Chester Copperpot all tried to make that journey. All failed. Sometimes you really can’t get there from here.

Westwood’s separation from the world was not a terrible thing in some respects. Handicap-placard-related crime dropped 894%, and hundreds of STD clinics in the surrounding areas of west Los Angeles closed due to plummeting demand. 

Still, the Westwood COVID Ring was also a source of pain for many, including wee Jay, he of only 17 years. Here’s Jay, again in his own words: “The 2020 pandemic was tragic to so many that lost so much. For me and especially my parents, we felt forced to make a major decision signing with USC….” Yes, little guy, the pandemic was tragic, especially for you. Millions of people died, millions more lost their careers and life savings. And some, like you, faced the tragedy of feeling “forced” – Hear that people? “Forced.” “Forced” is bad – to select his childhood dream school since he was unable to get anywhere near the UCLA campus before signing day.

Still, he overcame. Congratulations to Jay for putting his life together after enduring this unimaginable tragedy. 

Jay now re-joins former USC assistant Johnny Nansen at UCLA. Nansen recruited Jay to USC before becoming one of 37 football assistants fired in recent years by Clay Helton for not doing a good enough job getting USC championships. USC, as Helton has pointed out, is all about championships – that’s what USC football is judged on, that’s the standard, it’s the only thing that USC will accept. And accountability is swift and painful for those, like Nansen, who do not follow their leader’s example and do what they can to bring championship trophies to Heritage Hall.

At UCLA, Nansen will not be judged on championships. We don’t really know what they’re judged on there, but championships ain’t it. Nansen, the ultimate Jack of All Trades, who has coached just about every position in football (RB, CB, DB, LB, DL, and special teams) and has only been a defensive line coach for a few years, should be the ideal mentor for young Jay. They can learn D line together.

Jay, stay healthy, get your degree, and stink up the joint every Saturday for the next four years. 

Get your tissues out, Trojan fans, for on the way out the door, Jay delivered a stirring, heartfelt message directly to you: “Thank you kindly Trojan family.” Trojan family, indeed. And we all know family is forever. Or at least for a semester.

Chris Arledge

Chris Arledge is a graduate of USC’s Gould School of Law and is the co-founder and managing partner of an intellectual property law firm. Chris’s forgettable football career started at Elsinore High School, where his Tigers defeated Kyle Wachholtz’s Norco squad for the league title (Bring on Brad Otton’s team, too!), and ended at William Jewell College, where Chris was a team captain and an all-conference defensive back.

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