COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Outrunning defenses came easy for Missouri wide receiver and return specialist Jeremy Maclin. Saying goodbye was the hard part.
The two-time All-American declared Friday that he will skip his last two seasons of college football eligibility with the intent to enter the NFL Draft -- but not before breaking down in tears at the microphone before a crowd of reporters, grateful teammates and coaches.
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"This decision hasn't been easy," Maclin said, adding that he didn't completely make up his mind until 10 minutes before the news conference. "As much as I love you guys ... I feel like I'm ready for the next level."
Maclin, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound redshirt sophomore, scored 17 touchdowns and caught 102 passes for Missouri this season while leading the nation in all-purpose yardage, helping elevate the Tigers to national prominence with a brief stint at No. 1 in the late-season rankings last year and consecutive appearances in the Big 12 Conference championship game.
As a redshirt freshman, Maclin scored 16 touchdowns and immediately electrified a program that had been mired in mediocrity for years. Maclin sat out his first year in Columbia after injuring his knee during summer workouts, but he announced his presence in the 2007 season opener with two touchdowns in a home victory against Illinois.
Maclin totaled 2,833 all-purpose yards this season -- fifth-most in NCAA history -- and capped his career by igniting Missouri's comeback victory over Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl with a third-quarter punt return and then catching the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime.
"He's the elite of the elite," said Tigers assistant coach Cornell Ford, who helped recruit Maclin. "He set the bar for this program."
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said he gave Maclin his blessing to forgo his senior season.
"That's the right thing for him, which is ultimately the right thing for our program," Pinkel said. "He asked me if I thought he was ready, and I said, 'Yes.' Maybe that's being too honest, but it's the truth."
Pinkel said he knew right away that Maclin was a special player. The coach recalled driving home after the 2007 game against Illinois and telling his wife, "We've got a superstar here."
Maclin said that the specter of a potentially career-ending injury loomed large in his decision.
"It's definitely something you think about," he said. "In a worst-case scenario, you get hurt and you can never play football again."
Alabama running back Glen Coffee and Brigham Young receiver Austin Collie also announced their intentions to enter the NFL Draft on Friday.
Coffee ranked second in the SEC with 1,383 yards this season after starting only three games in his first two seasons. He gained 218 yards against Kentucky. His 117-yard average in league games was tops among SEC backs.
The 6-foot-2, 206-pound Collie led the nation in total receiving yards with 1,538 and receiving yards per game with an average of 118 as a junior. He had 106 receptions and 15 touchdowns.
Collie tied the NCAA record in 2008 with 11 consecutive games of 100 or more receiving yards. He was selected as a second-team AP All-American.
The deadline for players to declare their intentions to enter the draft is Jan. 15. The NFL Draft will be held April 25-26 in New York.
Other players announcing their intent to enter the NFL Draft in recent days include Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno, Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells, Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill, Florida State defensive end Everette Brown, Virginia wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, Auburn defensive back Jerraud Powers, Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, Iowa running back Shonn Greene and North Carolina wide receiver Hakeem Nicks.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press