Larry Fitzgerald finally made the decision everyone expected: to enter the NFL draft.
The Heisman Trophy runner-up said yesterday that he would forgo his collegiate career at Pittsburgh to turn professional. His announcement came four days after he was declared eligible for the draft.
Fitzgerald, who will turn 21 in August, is projected to go early in the draft. Though the receiver played just two seasons with the Panthers, that was enough time for him to break several school and NCAA records.
"The main reason people come to college is to better your chances of making a living, and I think that my two years that I've had here, I've given myself a good opportunity to make a good living for myself and to support my family," Fitzgerald said.
He petitioned the NFL to allow him to enter the draft despite two seasons of play. Fitzgerald left the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, Minn., midway through his senior year in 2001 and transferred to Valley Forge (Pa.) Military Academy to boost his grades for college.
The NFL cleared the way for Fitzgerald to enter the April draft because he is three years past his senior year of high school.
"I'm very confident in my ability," he said. "I know there's going to be skeptics and there's going to be people out there criticizing this and criticizing that, but all-in-all I know I can play the game of football."
The league's decision on Fitzgerald came on the same day a federal judge ruled running back Maurice Clarett could also turn pro despite playing only one season at Ohio State.
The 20-year-old Fitzgerald was dominating last season. He finished a close second to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White in voting for the Heisman Trophy, nearly becoming the first sophomore to win the award. He was the most proficient receiver in Pittsburgh history and set three NCAA records, including most consecutive games with a touchdown catch (18), most touchdown catches for a freshman-sophomore (34), and most receiving yards by a sophomore (1,672), besting Randy Moss's 1997 sophomore year. He tied the record for most games catching a touchdown pass in a season (12).
In 2003, Fitzgerald caught 87 passes and led all NCAA receivers with 1,595 yards in 12 regular-season games. He had 22 touchdown catches, at least one in each of Pitt's regular-season games. He had five catches for 77 yards in Pitt's loss to Virginia in the Continental Tire Bowl. He played in all 13 games as a freshman and became a starter in his third game. In 2002, he had 69 receptions for 1,005 yards, easily surpassing Antonio Bryant, who caught a then-record 51 passes for 844 yards as a freshman in 1999.Wyche is back Sam Wyche, the former coach of the Bengals and Buccaneers, has been hired by the Bills as the quarterbacks coach, rounding out new Buffalo coach Mike Mularkey's staff. Wyche spent 1984-91 as head coach of the Bengals, a stretch in which he twice led Cincinnati to the playoffs and took the team to the Super Bowl after the 1988 season. He coached the Buccaneers from 1992-95 before entering television broadcasting. He is expected to help Drew Bledsoe improve after a bad 2003 season . . . Wade Wilson, who was the Cowboys' quarterbacks coach the past three seasons, was hired for the same position by the Chicago Bears. Wilson replaces Greg Olson, who lost his job when head coach Dick Jauron was fired following the season. Wilson played 19 seasons in the NFL and was voted to the Pro Bowl with the Minnesota Vikings in 1988. He led the Vikings to three playoff appearances, including the 1987 National Football Conference championship game. Wilson, who also played for Atlanta, New Orleans, Dallas, and Oakland, threw for 17,283 yards and 99 touchdowns in his career . . . The Jaguars are letting Mark Brunell talk directly to the Washington Redskins and other teams interested in trading for him. The Jaguars have been approached by four teams about their expendable three-time Pro Bowl quarterback. Miami, San Diego, and Dallas are also in the running. Washington coach Joe Gibbs met with Brunell in Florida last night in what was described as a get-to-know-you session . . . The Jaguars added three new coaches, including longtime special teams expert Pete Rodriguez. Coach Jack Del Rio also hired Bob Ligashesky as a special teams assistant and Andy Heck as an offensive assistant.