In the most surprising roster movement news of the year for USC, freshman defensive tackle Jay Toia entered the NCAA transfer portal Wednesday night.
Toia, a four-star prospect from nearby Grace Brethren High School, had arrived at USC this winter as an early enrollee and made a strong impression in his first spring camp.
Given USC’s thin depth at the nose tackle position, following projected starter Brandon Pili’s season-ending Achilles tear in the spring, Toia looked to have a real path to playing time as a freshman. He and redshirt freshman Jamar Sekona had taken the bulk of the reps there this spring, while Alabama transfer Ishmael Sopsher was set to join the competition there in August after he was sidelined by injury through the spring.
Without Toia, the Trojans are now perilously thin at a position that was one of stability and strength the last few years with Marlon Tuipulotu, who left for the NFL after last season.
Even more will be expected now of Sopsher, a former top-100 national prospect who appeared in only one game in two years at Alabama. Sekona was considered one of the most improved players on the roster this spring after playing minimally as a freshman last year.
Behind them, it’s hard to say …
USC has a very promising defensive line overall with sophomore defensive end Tuli Tuipulotu looking primed for a breakout season, five-star freshman DE Korey Foreman arriving this summer, redshirt senior Nick Figueroa coming off his own breakout last season leading the Trojans in sacks and tackles for loss and pass-rushing outside linebacker Drake Jackson a projected potential first-round draft pick lining up just off the line with veteran Hunter Echols rotating in behind him.
But none of those players are in the mold of the 6-foot-3, 325-pound Toia or 6-foot-4, 325-pound Pili.
Redshirt freshman Kobe Pepe (6-foot-1, 300 pounds) and redshirt sophomore De’jon Benton (6-foot-3, 300 pounds) are other potential options there, but Pepe played sparingly as a freshman and was inactive much of the spring due to injury and Benton has mostly played defensive end.
Perhaps, USC will need to dip back into the transfer portal itself in light of this setback.
As for Toia, UCLA had made an aggressive late push to flip his commitment leading into the early signing period and could be a potential destination for him.