Draft-eligible college players have another month to declare for the NFL draft, but USC defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and offensive tackle Tyron Smith couldn’t wait.
The juniors, both first-team All-Pacific 10 Conference selections, are making themselves available for the April draft.
“I just felt it was the best time for me to do what I’ve wanted to do all my life,” Casey said Tuesday in a telephone interview.
Smith’s father Roy said his son met with Coach Lane Kiffin last week and had informed offensive line coach James Cregg of his decision to turn pro.
The departures come as no surprise.
Casey, 6 feet 1, 305 pounds, was projected as an NFL prospect before the season. The former Long Beach Poly High star made 67 tackles, including 4 1/2 sacks, and on Sunday was announced as the Trojans’ most valuable player at the team’s awards banquet.
“I think I’m ready to go to the next level and play against the best,” Casey said Tuesday.
The 6-5, 280-pound Smith, who played at Moreno Valley Rancho Verde High, was a two-year starter who has been projected as a possible early-round pick.
The return of Christian Tupou, sidelined in 2010 because of a knee injury, is expected to fill some of the void left by Casey’s exit.
Kevin Graf, a third-year sophomore, will compete to replace Smith, though Graf is scheduled to have shoulder surgery soon and is expected to be sidelined for spring practice. The Trojans also hope to enroll several offensive linemen in January so that they can participate in spring workouts.
Neither Kiffin nor defensive line coach Ed Orgeron could be reached for comment.