ATLANTA - Trevor Pryce nearly quit football two years ago.
He had just finished two promising, but troubled years at Michigan when Pryce left the team following a dispute with the coaching staff.
Pryce was tired of everything. Of Michigan, of school, and especially of football.
"I figured I could walk away from it all and just relax," Pryce said.
Two years later, Pryce, his Clemson teammates, coaches and fans are sure glad he didn't.
Instead of quitting, Pryce transferred to Clemson, and after sitting out last season to satisfy NCAA rules, the defensive end has gradually become a force as the Tigers (7-4) head into tonight's Peach Bowl against LSU (9-2) at the Georgia Dome (ESPN, 8 p.m.).
"Fortunately he decided to come here," Clemson coach Tommy West said. "His ability can ignite you. He has become the catalyst for our defensive front."
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. recently ranked the 6-foot-6, 285-pound junior as the ninth-best collegiate defensive lineman, and his performance over the final part of the season suggests Kiper could be right.
In the past two games, Pryce has eight tackles for losses, and had 14 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks in the regular-season finale against South Carolina. In just nine games - he had to sit out the first two after being suspended for unauthorized use of a university long-distance access code - Pryce has 65 tackles, including a team-high 17 for losses and was selected first team All-Atlantic Coast Conference.
"Except for high school, when I dominated people, I'm playing the best football for my life, but I believe the best is yet to come," he said. "I haven't stopped maturing physically. I'm playing the best I've ever played, especially in college. I've still got some more growing to do when I get out."
Which is the question that has now been purposed.
Is it time for Pryce to jump to the NFL, or will he remain at Clemson for one more year?
His late-season blossoming, his size and 4.74 speed in the 40 makes him an attractive pro prospect, but Pryce insists he doesn't even know the deadline to be eligible for the NFL draft.
That date, by the way, is Jan. 10.
"That's his decision, but Trevor's played well in maybe three college games," West told The Atlanta Constitution. "What teams has Kiper drafted for? I would want to talk to more people who will do the actual picking."
Pryce said he has heard scouts say he needs to stay in school, but his recent history suggest he could be on the move soon.
As a All-American lineman at Lake Howell High in Winter Park, Fla., Pryce originally committed to Georgia.
Even after a personal visit from former head coach Ray Goff, Pryce then committed to Clemson. He promptly signed with Michigan.
"We had a bad season my senior year and Clemson was coming off a bad season, so I decided that Michigan was the right place for me at the time," Pryce said. "They were doing really well, but didn't go right for me up there. I had a lot of pressure on me after playing so much as a freshman. Plus, it was too far from home. It was time for a change."
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