JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars rookie defensive tackle Jay Tufele is thrilled to be back on the football field this summer. Tufele, a fourth-round selection by the Jaguars in the 2021 NFL Draft from the University of Southern California, was one of many college football players who called an audible in 2020 and spent the season on the sidelines – deciding to protect his family, which was grinding through the COVID-19 pandemic in Salt Lake City, Utah, instead of returning to USC. It was an impactful decision because he might have been a first-round draft selection had he played. But family considerations were more important and he says they're all on board with the Jaguars now that he's back on the field. Here is senior correspondent Brian Sexton's recent conversation with Tufele:
Question: Is your family as excited as you are to get back to football after a season of watching?
Answer: They've always been my biggest fans and supported me since I started playing football. They missed it as much as I did last season and they're really excited that I'm back playing. Now, I'm wearing the Jaguars logo instead of the Trojans and wearing teal – and they're excited to be wearing teal also. It's cool to be back and my love of the game is 1,000 percent stronger than it was before. We're glad to be back and in the game. It took a lot from me mentally and physically, but at the end of the day the Lord has provided this opportunity to be here. I don't take anything for granted but I know we're going to do some awesome things in Jacksonville.
Q: How is football different for you now in the NFL in Jacksonville as opposed to playing at USC in Los Angeles?
A: As a little kid, I dreamed about being in the NFL – and now I'm here in the NFL in Jacksonville. That's the biggest difference. It's no longer a dream. It's a reality and you know I'm here around such amazing players and of such high status that you know you're teammates with now and you get to play with them and hopefully do some great things. That's the best part of it for me.
Q: Why did the Jaguars draft you? What role will you play in new defensive coordinator Joe Cullen's defensive scheme?
A: My role is to do whatever Joe asks of me. I'm going to do whatever he needs me to do and I'll line up wherever he tells me to line up. The big thing for me is that I am going to be asked to make plays and I will make plays. I'm going to make plays. There is so much talent on this defensive line and with this defense and I know we're going to do great things together for Joe. It's going to be an awesome year and Joe's such a great defensive coach and the staff is all together. I can't wait.
Q: What's your take on this team and the locker room? Everything and nearly everyone is new in 2021. Do you know what to make of it all just yet?
A: You know, we're really committed. All the guys that I've seen throughout my whole time here, they're all eager to win and they're doing whatever it takes and whatever the coaches have asked of us. We want to win and we have so much we can win with; we have great coaches, such a great staff, a great owner, a general manager who really believes in us and that's what it's all about. I think we can do a lot of great things this season and that's why we're here, to do great things.
Q: This season? It's pretty clear this team, this franchise, is on the upswing but not many folks would say they expect to see it this season. It sounds like you have a different outlook?
A: My expectation is always to be great so my expectation for this season is we're going to be great no matter what anyone thinks. We're definitely going to take it one day at a time, but we're not worried about what happened last season. We're focused on this season. We're always going to expect to be great and I think we should start this season thinking that is what we're going to be.