78 days to USC football: Jay Tufele and the quietly great No. 78

RoT Countdown / Photo by Alicia de Artola (Reign of Troy)
RoT Countdown / Photo by Alicia de Artola (Reign of Troy) /

Defensive lineman Jay Tufele is the latest USC football to wear the No. 78 jersey, which has quietly amassed a strong legacy of Trojan stars.

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In just 78 days, USC football will be back.

Of course, that’s still 78 days to wait before the men of Troy take on Fresno State at the Coliseum.

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Join Reign of Troy in passing the time by exploring the history and legacies of every USC jersey. Today, it’s No. 78:

Who wore it best?

Quietly, the No. 78 is one of the best in USC history. It is one of just eight numbers out of 99 to have four or more All-Americans to its name.

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Those four include Grenny Lansdell, Marv Montgomery, Steve Riley and George Achica.

Lansdell was the quarterback for USC’s 1939 national title team, leading the team in both rushing and passing after transferring in from Pasadena City College.

“Grenny Lansdell, a real Trojan leader, couldn’t be touched for the quarter post,” the Sioux City Journal praised him in 1939. “His position called upon him for triplethreat brilliance. He was a shifty runner, yet hit hard when tackled. He has a devastating straight arm as Notre Dame’s fine group will attest to.”

Montgomery was an offensive lineman who transferred in from Valley College and played for the Trojans from 1969 to 1970.

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At 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, he was known as a hulking drive blocker who was described by Jeff Prugh of the Los Angeles Times as “the heart (and soul) of USC’s strongside blocking.”

He certainly showed heart when he started the final three games of the Trojans Rose Bowl-winning season in 1969 with a fractured right tibia.

It was also his blocking which helped clear the way for Sam “Bam” Cunningham when the Trojans and their all-black backfield battered all-white Alabama in Birmingham to start the 1970 season.

The same year he earned All-American honors in 1970 while juggling life as a football player, student, husband and father.

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Riley also starred for the Trojans on the offensive line, blocking for the 1972 national title team and 1973’s Pac-12 champions.

Achica represented in the tranches as well, but on the other side of the ball.

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A runnerup for the Lombardi Award in 1979, his first season playing, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound nose guard went on to earn three consecutive all-conference nods. He was USC’s Most Inspirational Player and the Pac-10’s Morris Trophy winner in 1982, completing his array of honors with consensus All-American acclaim.

Before that though, Achica accomplished the greatest and most memorable feat of his football career.

In 1981, USC and UCLA faced off at the Coliseum with the Bruins hoping to keep their Rose Bowl hopes alive.

The battle was tight and Marcus Allen gave the Trojans a slim advantage at 22-21 with just over two minutes to play. The Bruins, however, made their way into field goal range and were set up to win the game with a 46-yard kick with four seconds to play.

Achica, who had been taken out of the game because of a bruised right shoulder and had to beg to be put back into action, made sure the kick never made it near the goal posts.

“I jumped, I hit it, it was the greatest moment of my career,” Achica told the Los Angeles Times in 2006.

Who wears it now?

The next great USC defensive lineman to wear the No. 78 may very well be Jay Tufele.

After redshirting in 2017, earning USC’s Defensive Service Team Player of the Year Award, Tufele began to deliver on his four-star talent in 2018. While starting five games and appearing in all 12, he had 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He also returned a kick for a touchdown against Utah.

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Like Achica, he had a huge moment for the Trojans on special teams. He blocked what would have been a game-tying field goal against Washington State to secure USC’s late victory.

The Athletic named Tufele a Freshman All-American first teamer. He was also voted an All-Pac-12 second teamer.

Tufele looked bright on the defensive line in Spring Camp and appeared to lock down a starting job going into the 2019 season.

USC needs him to reach his potential, that’s for sure. The Trojans didn’t have a reliable playmaker on the defensive line to rely on last year and it showed. As the most explosive player up front, Tufele will be expected to make his presence known far more as a redshirt sophomore.

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Already, the likes of Phil Steele and Athlon have named him a preseason All-Pac-12 first team selection.

Stats to know: 78

  • Safety Dennis Thurman was USC’s 78th All-American ever.
  • Grenny Lansdell had 78 carries for 417 yards in 1937, his first year with the Trojans. Rodney Pete had 78 yards on 49 carries as a first year player for USC in 1985.
  • Safety Tim McDonald had 78 tackles in 1984. The next two years he got All-American nods with more than 100 tackles.
  • Linebacker Rey Maualuga had 78 tackles in 2006. Keith Rivers finished his USC career with 78 tackles in 2007.

Next. 79 Days to Kickoff