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Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt says he'll return as senior

Michael Conroy / Associated Press
Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt's production has dropped this year as he recovers from sports hernia surgery.

Notre Dame junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt, seen by most draft analysts as a likely first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, told Notre Dame's student newspaper he would remain in school for his senior season.

"I'm coming back next year," Tuitt told The Observer. "I'm a junior. I still have one year.

The official underclassman declaration deadline is in January.

Tuitt (6-foot-6, 312 pounds) has 18 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and an interception. One of those sacks came in the Irish's most recent game, an Oct. 5 win over Arizona State.

Tuitt had a big sophomore campaign last season. He led the Irish with 12 sacks -- second-most in school history in a season -- and added 47 tackles, three forced fumbles, nine quarterback hurries and a blocked kick. But his production dropped off in the second half of the season, when he had only 3.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss in the final six games, partly as a result of an injury that required offseason surgery for a sports hernia.

Last week, Irish coach Brian Kelly told reporters that Tuitt's recovery from the surgery was an ongoing concern and that he wasn't back to 100 percent.

Before the season, Tuitt's mother, Tamara Tuitt-Bartlett, told the Chicago Tribune that her son earning a degree was her main concern last year. This year, she softened her stance, and irishillustrated.com reported Wednesday that she had been "actively interviewing potential agents in recent months."

NFL Media draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah has said of Tuitt, "It's hard to find players with his size, strength and pass-rush ability."

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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