GAINESVILLE — Florida's Joe Haden, the Maryland native who transformed himself from a high school quarterback into one of the premier cornerbacks in the nation, will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
"This was a tough decision, and I spent a lot of time with my family talking about it,'' Haden, 20, said Sunday. "I'm so proud that I had a chance to be a Gator. It's been one of the best experiences of my life.
"Coach (Urban) Meyer and (cornerbacks coach Vance) Bedford have helped me in so many ways. I'll always be thankful to them for everything, and I know I'll never forget the fans in the Gator Nation.''
The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder was a consensus first-team All-American this season and one of three finalists for the Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back. He also was a first-team All-SEC pick by the coaches and Associated Press.
He led the Gators with four interceptions and had 68 tackles (five for loss), three sacks, 10 pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Haden is among the top 15 picks on most NFL draft boards.
"We're sad to see Joe go because he's a great leader and a dynamic player,'' Florida interim coach Steve Addazio said. "But we know that with his tremendous talent, he will be a special player at the next level. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for Joe, and we wish him nothing but the best.''
Senior Bowl: Southern Cal running back Stafon Johnson, whose larynx was crushed in a weightlifting accident, will play in the Jan. 30 game for draft prospects. Johnson has not played since dropping a barbell with 275 pounds on his neck on Sept. 28. According to a statement released by game officials, he was recently cleared for football activities by doctors.
Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.