CLEMSON, S.C. -- Coach Dabo Swinney has been fortunate with some of his star juniors returning for their final season at Clemson.
Tigers defensive end Da'Quan Bowers won't be one of them.
Clemson's junior All-American said Wednesday he was giving up his senior season to make himself available for the 2011 NFL Draft.
"I feel I am ready to go to the next level and I look forward to working hard in preparation for the draft," he said.
Several highly regarded juniors, including tailback C.J. Spiller last season and safety DeAndre McDaniel this fall, returned to Clemson for their senior campaigns.
Bowers, the Nagurski and Ted Hendricks award winner, led the country with 15.5 sacks.
Bowers, of Bamberg, S.C., came to Clemson in 2008 as the country's No. 1 college prospect. However, he struggled through parts of his first two seasons adjusting to the college game.
Yet, Bowers cites losing his father, Dennis, and his mentor, Gaines Adams, the former Clemson defensive end, in 2010 as inspiration for his breakout season.
Dennis died in August after collapsing at a gospel concert. Adams, the Chicago Bears defensive lineman, died in January after going into cardiac arrest because of an enlarged heart. Bowers had talked with both about stepping up his game his junior season.
"You hear people talk about the Clemson family, and when my father passed this past summer, I saw that firsthand," Bowers said. "There is a great support system at Clemson. The coaches and players were all there for me and I will never forget that."
Things clicked on the field for the 6-foot-4, 280-pound Bowers. Besides his sack total, Bowers was second in the country with 26 tackles for loss. His sacks surpassed Adams' school record for defensive linemen.
Bowers was second on the team this fall with 74 tackles and led the Tigers with 20 quarterback pressures, most of the time dealing with two or three offensive players trying to slow his pursuit.
He was named the Atlantic Coast Conference's defensive player of the year.
Swinney said he talked with Bowers at length about the decision. "We certainly understand the decision," Swinney said. "Most see him as a top five selection in the NFL draft."
And that's something not even the persuasive Swinney could turn around.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press