Blair Kerkhoff

SENIOR SEASON HAS REWARDS FOR COLLEGE FOOTBALL STARS

by Blair Kerkhoff December 05, 2008 in Football

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Okay, so it gets a lot of airtime – on television and on the video screens inside the arenas during March Madness. But if I’m not buried in note-taking I pay attention.
“There are over 400,000 student-athletes and most will be going pro in something other than sports.”
The NCAA got even more clever with those PSAs in its latest campaign to underscore the relationship between academics and athletics, cracking funny with kids bargaining their trading cards of former athletes now in the work force.
Good stuff. It appeals to my sense of the college sports ideal and reinforces the notion that the majority of athletes are in it for the right reasons. They would have to be. There aren’t nearly 400,000 pro positions available.
This isn’t to suggest that the athlete who signs a contract with eligibility remaining blew the career choice. In many cases, going pro makes sense.
But a return for a senior season by one of college sports higher profiles is a welcome counter play. A return for all the right reasons, that is. Commitment, loyalty and just plain college fun.
In recent years, no return gained greater attention than Matt Leinart’s.
He had every reason to leave Southern California soon after the team returned from Miami, where his five touchdown passes helped blast Oklahoma for the 2004 national championship.
Leinart, that season’s Heisman Trophy winner, had nothing else to prove in college and he probably would have been the top pick in the NFL Draft. Instead, he returned as a fifth-year senior, saying, “There’s something special here I don’t want to give up.”
Leinart said winning another championship was part of the deal but so was campus life, his teammates, and the whole college scene, in which he said “is ultimately more satisfying and will make me happier than any amount of money could make someone happy.”
The Trojans didn’t win the 2005 championship, falling in the Rose Bowl classic to Vince Young and Texas. Leinart didn’t win a second straight Heisman Trophy and he was taken 10th in that year’s draft.
The I-told-you-sos came out in force. But Leinart was asked by Sports Illustrated in 2007 if he regretted the decision to return. “Noooooo, no-way,” he said.
Several have made the same call since Leinart, although some are business decisions based on draft information. They’re back because the money’s not there. As this college football season winds down, talented underclassmen who are three years removed from their graduating class are hearing about their prospects, usually through the media.
One such player is Texas’ Colt McCoy, who has become one of the nation’s top quarterbacks as a junior. He’s having an amazing season and is on pace to set the NCAA record for completion percentage. Longhorns coach Mack Brown calls him “as valuable to this team as any player in the country.”
McCoy said he will accept the feedback provided by an NFL advisory committee on his draft prospects and then make a decision.
But to hear McCoy it would take a whale of deal to leave Austin.
“To play four years at Texas, it would be an honor,” McCoy said. “I want to be here for my entire career. Not many people get the opportunity to do that. My intentions are to come back and play.”
The thought is especially meaningful when it comes from a college football star.