Though he didn't made it publicly official Monday, former Josey High star Deon Grant appears headed for the pros as the top-rated defensive back among the underclassmen. The junior free safety, who was an All-American and the 1999 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, becomes the fifth player who will leave the University of Tennessee with eligibility remaining.
The others were offensive guard Cosey Coleman and Raynoch Thompson -- both All-Americans -- and defensive end Shaun Ellis and running back Jamal Lewis. Grant, Coleman (Clarkston) and Lewis (Atlanta) are Georgians.
Monday was the deadline for underclassmen to enter the draft, which is scheduled for April 15-16 in New York.
Draft analyst Mel Kiper rates Grant ahead of Virginia Tech's Ike Charlton and Maryland cornerback Lewis Sanders, a redshirt junior who decided Monday to enter the draft.
Coleman, a junior, announced his intentions at a press conference Monday morning in Knoxville, Tenn. Volunteers assistant athletic director Bud Ford said Grant was invited to the function but didn't attend.
"I called Deon and told him he had the option of coming if he wanted to," Ford said.
Grant did not return calls to his Knoxville residence Monday. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder was a finalist for the Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back, and he has been projected as high as a middle first-round pick in the NFL draft.
The 20-year-old started 11 games in 1999 and was named first-team All-America by Walter Camp, American Football Coaches Association, The Sporting News and Football News.
He hauled in nine interceptions, which tied him for most in the nation, and finished second on the team in tackles with 69.
Coleman's exit was the bookend of the Vols' five-player exodus to the professional ranks. Volunteers coach Phillip Fulmer said each of them assured him they would continue working toward their college degrees.
"The early entry to the draft is a part of college football when you recruit and develop outstanding players," said Fulmer, whose team was the 1998 national champ.
At Florida State, junior quarterback Chris Weinke pulled off a surprise Monday when he announced he will be the Seminoles' quarterback for the 2000 season.
The 27-year-old threw four touchdowns passes against Virginia Tech in the national championship game and had indicated previously that he planned a jump to the NFL.
"I'd like to come back and try to win another national championship," said Weinke, who spent six years in the Toronto Blue Jays minor-league system before resuming his football career.
"Relieved," said junior tight end Ryan Sprague, a Lakeside High graduate. "You know how hard it is to replace a quarterback, even at the college level."
|NFL Draft Early Entries NEW YORK -- Players who have announced their decision to make themselves available for the NFL draft to be held on April 15-16 with position and school:|
LaVar Arrington, lb, Penn State
Rodregis Brooks, cb, Alabama-Birmingham
Plaxico Burress, wr, Michigan State
Kwame Cavil, wr, Texas
Cosey Coleman, g, Tennessee
Na'il Diggs, lb, Ohio State
Shaun Ellis, de, Tennessee
Bubba Franks, te, Miami
Deon Grant, fs, Tennessee
Jonathan Gray, ol, Texas Tech
Darrell Jackson, wr, Florida
Sebastian Janikowski, pk, Florida State
Ben Kelly, cb, Colorado
Jamal Lewis, rb, Tennessee
Tariq McDonald, wr, Arizona State
Marvel Smith, ol, Arizona State
Travis Taylor, wr, Florida
Raynoch Thompson, lb, Tennessee
Dez White, wr, Georgia Tech