Talanoa Hufanga eager to lead Trojans’ new-look defense

The hiring of defensive coordinator Todd Orlando back in January gave the USC Trojans football team a fresh start on that side of the ball. As a leader in Orlando’s new system, junior safety Talanoa Hufanga is looking forward to the Trojans improving as a defensive unit, especially with the duality of responsibilities he will be taking with him on the playing field. 

“I want to be a leader in any way I can be,” Hufanga said during a Pac-12 Conference South Division Media Day virtual press conference. “I like to lead by example. I want to do my job for the team in the best way possible, at the end of the day I want to help my brothers out. If the job requires me to be on the sidelines and support from there, I’m going to do it.”

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound safety had offseason surgery on his right shoulder after spraining it in a conference game against the Arizona Wildcats last season. Hufanga missed a couple of games and played through the injury once he was cleared, but the surgery caused him to miss spring camp.

Due to the uncertainty of the Pac-12 Conference season, USC’s fall football camp was pushed back to October, causing Hufanga and the rest of the defense to begin physical, in-person and full-speed practices much later than the rest of the major football programs around the country.

USC defensive back Talanoa Hufanga
© News4usonline – USC safety Talanoa Hufanga (15) is regarded as one of the best defensive backs in the country. Photo by Dennis J Freeman for News4usonline

“You’re usually ready to play in September or even late-August,” Hufanga said. “You’re itching to be back on the field, and watching other college teams and NFL crews play is very different. It’s a blessing to even watch football with everything going on and we’re excited to be that team out there very soon.”

Hufanga has had the chance to fully practice last week with contact for the first time since the 2019 Holiday Bowl when the Trojans went up against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Since being cleared to play in June, he feels like he’s ready to get back into football shape again.

“I’ve had plenty of opportunities [to test the shoulder],” Hufanga said. “We’ve had a few full padded practices for us to get back into the groove of things. Once you’re on the field, it’s a different speed but coach Orlando and the other coaches have done a great job with us. Having zoom meetings was definitely a process. Having the meetings and practices in-person has helped us in implementing our defense even more now.”

During his first two years wearing the Cardinal and Gold uniform, Hufanga has been impressive in his play. Playing in just 10 games last season, Hufanga recorded 90 tackles and 7.5 tackles for losses. His reward for his outstanding play was making the All-Pac-12 Conference second team. He has registered a total of 141 tackles, 3.5 sacks, broken up seven passes, and forced two fumbles. 

So, just how good can Hufanga be? He enters the 2020 college football season as one of the best defensive backs in the country. Hufanga’s name was recently added to the Jim Thorpe Award watchlist. The honor is handed out annually to the best defensive back in college football. The fact that Hufanga is even out on the football field shows his will and determination.  

Hufanga has suffered two broken collarbones, has had to deal with a sprained right shoulder and has suffered a concussion during his Trojan career that has limited him to only play in 18 games over the course of two seasons. Hufanga was able to start in each of the 10 games he was healthy for in the 2019 season.

USC head coach Clay Helton praised the defensive system that Orlando will be utilizing this season, saying his defensive coach’s scheme poses an extreme threat to opposing offenses through aggressive blitzing and disguising coverages.

“We are excited to have Todd join our Trojan football program,” Helton said. “He is an experienced and successful defensive coordinator who has made an impact everywhere he has coached. He brings a passion, energy, toughness and discipline to his coaching and those characteristics were evident in our discussions. His defensive system poses an extreme challenge to offenses.”

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