Just two days following the Trojans’ Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska, USC announced Monday that junior defensive end Leonard Williams will forego his final year of eligibility and enter the 2015 NFL Draft.
The 6’-5’’, 300-pound Williams, who is a two-time All-American, is projected to be a Top-10 pick in the draft.
“This was a very hard decision for me,” Wiliams said in an official statement by USC athletics. “I love USC, Coach Sark and the coaching staff, my teammates and the fans, and I love the game of college football. It’s hard to leave all of that. I know life is never the same once you leave college.”
“But I feel like it’s the right time to go, Williams added. “I feel like I’m looking forward to the new challenge that the NFL presents.”
Despite being double-teamed by the majority of USC’s opponents in 2014, Williams racked up 80 total tackles and a team-high seven sacks. He finishes his USC career with 21 total sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian also showed his support for Williams’s decision.
“We wish Leonard the best of luck,” Sarkisian said. “We know he will represent USC well in his professional career. He was a great player here for all three of his years. Just like our players, Leonard is a Trojan for life and we will always support him.”
In ESPN insider Todd McShay’s most recent mock draft, he had Williams being selected third overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. If McShay’s prediction holds true, Williams will join his former teammate in USC alumnus Marqise Lee.
The last Trojan defensive player to be taken in the top five of the NFL Draft was defensive tackle Darrell Russell in 1997 and Williams looks to follow in his foot steps come draft night in Chicago on April 30.
The next stop for Williams is expected to be the NFL Scouting Combine, which will be held in February.
Update: Williams posted the following shortly after the university’s announcement:
I have officially declared for draft and looking forward to future! It has been an honor to be apart of the Trojan family! Thanks to all
— Leonard Williams (@LWtrojan94) December 29, 2014