JACKSONVILLE – Saturday couldn't have meant more to Jay Tufele.
"Today is the most special day of my life," he said.
That's a common feeling during any NFL Draft weekend, but Tufele had ample and emotional reasons for feeling that way after the Jaguars selected him to start Day 3 of the '21 draft.
Tufele, a defensive tackle from the University of Southern California, opted out of playing during the 2020 season. He did so to prepare for the draft, but more than that, he did so because of the effects of COVID-19 on his family.
"It's just been a life-changing experience," he said. "Especially with everything that's happened it's just a blessing.
"It's a blessing and I'm so grateful. I'm so grateful."
Tufele said his entire family contracted the disease, with it hitting his sister – Noreen, seven years his elder -- "the hardest, in a way you wouldn't want on anybody."
"It was very hard for me to have to go through that and then just having the whole season and just the PAC-12 ending during that time," he said. "I was ready to come out and to prove myself and everyone that believed in me.
"I'm ready to be in this league and I'm ready to just come in and be great."
Tufele spent draft day with family in Utah, with Noreen in attendance.
"Everybody was here," he said. "It was just a blessing."
Tufele (6-feet-3, 215 pounds) was the No. 106 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, the first selection of Round 4. He joined multiple players in the Jaguars' draft class who were recruited by Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer out of high school when Meyer coached at Ohio State University.
"He told me that he thought he had me, he really had me," Tufele said with a laugh. "Things didn't happen the way he wanted [it] to happen, but at the end of the day we're back together and we're family now.
"It's time to go be great and then to just do it together. And I'm so grateful to be under him and part of his team."
Tufele played two collegiate seasons after redshirting as a freshman, appearing in 12 games in 2018 and starting 13 as a redshirt sophomore in 2019. He finished his career with 65 tackles, including 11 for loss. He started 18 total games at Southern California.
Tufele said he never regretted the decision to opt out last season because he was able to improve physically and mentally. He said used the time improved his knowledge of the game, and pass-rushing techniques.
'"I am an ultimate competitor and I love to win more than the next guy next to you and I want to win," he said. "It was very hard, but I knew what I was getting into. I saw the change in myself. And at the end of the day, I don't regret it and I'm grateful that I was able to go through this process and come out of it a stronger, faster, smarter Jay Tufele.
"Football is my life now. That's what I've always wanted, [what] I've always dreamed of and I'm ready for that. And the change has happened drastically and I'm just so grateful."