SALT LAKE CITY — One of the top football talents to come out of Utah in recent years is ready to focus on a pro career.

Former Bingham High standout Jay Tufele declared for the 2021 NFL draft on Wednesday, opting to forgo his final two seasons at USC.

“Although it pains me to leave all the people who have become so instrumental in my life, know that I will carry all of you with me in my heart as I embark on the next phase of my journey,” Tufele wrote in a message on Twitter.

“Forever grateful. Fight On.”

Tufele would have been a redshirt junior for the Trojans in 2020, before the Pac-12 postponed fall competition in all sports last week due to health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. That left Tufele, and athletes from FBS conferences including the Big Ten, Mountain West and Mid-American that made similar decisions, with the reality that they wouldn’t be playing this fall.

Over the past two seasons, Tufele has put up 65 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks from his defensive tackle position while starting 18 games for USC. He was named to a trio of college football preseason watch lists this offseason — for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (nation’s most outstanding defensive player), Outland Trophy (nation’s most outstanding interior lineman) and the Bednarik Award (college defensive player of the year).

Now, the focus turns to creating a pro career for the 6-foot-3, 315-pounder, who’s projected as a potential first-round draft pick.

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ESPN’s Mel Kiper listed Tufele at No. 22 on his big board for top 2021 NFL draft prospects back in May.

“What stands out on tape is his quickness off the snap. Tufele is also a stout run defender with some raw strength,” Kiper wrote of Tufele.

Another Utahn — former Desert Hills left tackle Penei Sewell — is listed at No. 2 on Kiper’s draft board for the 2021 class. Sewell, the 2019 Outland Trophy winner who was headed into his junior year at Oregon, has not declared for the draft, though he faces the same situation as Tufele — no season to play this fall.

“Sewell has everything NFL scouts look for in an offensive tackle, and he’s going to be coveted in 2021,” Kiper wrote of Sewell.

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