An autopsy could be conducted as early as Monday on award-winning former USC offensive lineman Max Tuerk, who died while hiking with his parents on a favorite trail in the Cleveland National Forest. He was 26.
Tuerk was pronounced dead at 3:14 p.m. Saturday at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, according to Supervising Deputy Orange County Coroner Erica Arellano. There was no immediate indication of an apparent cause of death, Arellano said.
Tuerk was the first-team All-Pac-12 center as a junior in 2014. He started the first five games at center in 2015, then tore ligaments in his right knee and underwent season-ending surgery. Despite the injury, he won USC’s Most Inspirational Player Award.
Tuerk was a captain both of his final two seasons with the Trojans.
Tuerk started USC’s final five regular-season games at left tackle as a freshman in 2012 and at left guard in its 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
Tuerk started 13 games at left guard and one at right tackle in 2013, receiving All-Pac-12 honorable mention.
“Heartbroken by the loss of Max Tuerk,” Trojans coach Clay Helton tweeted. “Incredible person, teammate, and Trojan. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
The 6-foot-5, 298-pound Tuerk was chosen by the San Diego Chargers in third round of the 2016 NFL draft, the 66th overall selection. He was inactive for all 16 of the team’s games in 2016, their last in San Diego.
Tuerk was suspended by the league on Aug. 22, 2017, without pay for the first four games of the regular season, for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.
“This off season, I made the mistake of taking over-the-counter supplements,” Tuerk said. “In doing so, I opened myself up to the possibility of consuming a tainted supplement — something that ultimately led to a positive test for a banned substance.
“I accept responsibility for my actions and understand the NFL’s policy is very clear on this matter. This is a very hard way to learn a lesson and I will never make this mistake again.”
The Chargers issued a statement saying they “respect and support the league’s decision on this matter. While disappointed, we appreciate that Max has accepted responsibility and are confident that he understands what is expected from him moving forward.”
The Los Angeles Chargers waived Tuerk on Oct. 3, 2017, one day after he became eligible to return to their active roster because the team was “pleased with the guys that we have,” coach Anthony Lynn said.
The Chargers signed Tuerk to the practice squad Oct. 26. The Arizona Cardinals signed Tuerk off the Chargers’ practice squad on Nov. 6, 2017. He played in his lone NFL game on Dec. 24, 2017. He was released by the Cardinals on April 12, 2018.
“The news is hard to process, and all I can think of is how unbelievably sad I am — and all of us at the Chargers are — upon learning of Max’s passing,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said.
“I’m heartbroken for his parents and family. Max had a tremendous passion for football and a quiet toughness that those who didn’t know him may have underestimated, but all of us who knew him appreciated. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Max’s family during this extremely difficult time.”
Tuerk was an alumnus of Santa Margarita High in Orange County’s Rancho Santa Margarita and was selected to various All-America teams as a senior in 2011.
“Max loved his teammates, coaches and schools,” his family said in a statement. “Max was a loving son and older brother and his passing leaves a giant hole in our hearts. His strength and work ethic is an inspiration to many.”