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DE Za'Darius Smith will return to Kentucky for senior season

Mark Zerof/USA TODAY Sports
Kentucky's Za'Darius Smith didn't begin playing football until his senior year of high school.

Defensive end Za'Darius Smith announced he will return to Kentucky next year for his senior season, ending speculation that the junior might enter the NFL draft early after only one season in the SEC. The decision will give UK one of the best defensive-end tandems in the league next year, as the team's other junior defensive end, Bud Dupree, announced he would stay in school on Dec. 13.

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops lauded the decision in a release on the school's website.

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"We are very excited that Bud and Za'Darius have decided to return. Obviously this is big for our team as we are counting on their leadership in the 2014 season," Stoops said. "In regard to their future, I believe that Bud and Za'Darius will benefit greatly with another year of development on the field, in the weight room and in their academics."

A junior-college transfer, Smith was among the most productive pass rushers in the SEC this year in his first season at UK, recording 59 tackles, six sacks, and a team-high five quarterback hurries. Smith (6-foot-6, 255 pounds) combined with Dupree in 2013 for 13 sacks. He came to UK from East Mississippi Community College, one of the top junior-college programs in the nation, which has produced a slew of NFL talent including Quinton Dial (San Francisco 49ers) and LeGarrette Blount (New England Patriots).

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.

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