Who are USC football’s most unheralded stars who quietly drive the team forward?
Earlier this week, ESPN decided to declare the “most unheralded” player for each Top 25. For USC football, they went with Jay Tufele.
Respectfully, ESPN is probably looking at the Trojans the wrong way.
Listen, Tufele could become more of a national name than he currently is, but he’s been touted in multiple first-round mock drafts for 2021. He was also an All-Pac-12 first-team selection for 2019. He might be the most recognizable player on USC’s defense.
USC football’s truly unheralded, but essential players have flown under the radar
There are other players who are essential to USC’s success who have garnered far less attention.
Take Marlon Tuipulotu for example. The defensive tackle has quietly produced 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Tufele has 11 sacks and 7.5 sacks over the same stretch.
Tuipulotu does all the quiet things that are essential on the defensive line, occupying blocks with his strength and technical focus.
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There are others who had strong 2019 campaigns and could breakout in a big way in 2020.
Isaiah Pola-Mao as another example on defense. He’s been overshadowed by the outstanding play of Talanoa Hufanga, but he led the Trojans with four interceptions as a redshirt sophomore. He was also third on the team with 73 tackles, pitching in 5.5 tackles for loss.
On offense, an easy answer to the “who is unheralded” question is Tyler Vaughns. The redshirt senior is just 63 catches from Robert Wood’s career receptions mark and 1,261 yards away from Marqise Lee’s career receiving yards record.
He was voted USC’s Offensive Perimeter Player of the Year for 2019, but he has never received more than an All-Pac-12 honorable mention.
Since he lacks the splashy-ness of Michael Pittman and the pro-potential of Amon-Ra St. Brown, Vaughns has been easy to overlook despite critical contributions over the last three years.
The good news for Vaughns is he is set up for a big send-off campaign. With Michael Pittman off to the NFL, Vaughns will be there to pick up the slack. His first 1,000-yard season should be well within reach, then maybe he’ll get that first All-Pac-12 nod.