West Virginia quarterback Major Harris, who scrambled his way fromPittsburgh's mean streets to stardom, will skip his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft.
"With some sense of regret, I am making myself available for the NFL draft and professional football," Harris said Thursday. "I do it because it's a great challenge, a great opportunity, and a great benefit for me and my family."
During his three seasons as West Virginia's starting quarterback, Harris led the Mountaineers to three bowl games - all losses - and their first unbeaten regular season in 1988.
West Virginia lost to top-ranked Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl in 1989 after finishing 11-0 in its bid for a national title.
Harris' departure was expected. Although West Virginia was 25-10-1 under Harris, he was criticized for his uninspired effort in a 27-7 loss to Clemson in the Gator Bowl. That followed a seasonlong rift with coach Don Nehlen.
"By all the negative press I was getting, it was convincing me more to leave," Harris said.
Harris finished third in last year's Heisman Trophy balloting and fifth in 1988. He is West Virginia's all-time career offensive leader with 7,334 total yards, including bowl games. He also holds the school record in total touchdowns with 59 and is second in touchdown passes with 41.
Harris is not regarded as a potential first-round draft pick - NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. rates him as only the 10th-best quarterback available.
Harris has explored the possibility of playing in the Canadian Football League, which has a wide-open style that might be better suited for his improvisational scrambling and passing.
"I wouldn't mind going up there," Harris said. "Football is football to me. I'd play anywhere."
"I'm kind of excited by his announcement and I'd love to make a pitch to him, but I think we'll have to wait until after the NFL draft to see what he decides to do," said Toronto Argonauts general manager Michael McCarthy, whose team has the exclusive rights to Harris in the CFL.
Harris is the latest in a growing list of underclassmen leaving school early. Others include Florida running back Emmitt Smith, Utah quarterback Scott Mitchell, Tennessee running back Reggie Cobb, Georgia running back Rodney Hampton and Alabama linebacker Keith McCants.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that the NFL will end its
longstanding policy and allow college juniors to enter the draft this year.
A league source said Thursday that NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue could announce the decision as early as today.
The commissioner had reportedly wanted to wait until the league meeting next month before making the change, but the recent announcements by juniors forgoing their final year of eligibility prompted him to act sooner.