COLUMBIA - After a rather lengthy and draining period of deliberation, South Carolina receiver Troy Williamson decided Wednesday to forgo his senior season and declare himself eligible for the NFL Draft.
Williamson, a 2002 Silver Bluff graduate and a native of Jackson, S.C., is the first Gamecock to leave school early since John Chaney in 1992.
The goals are a bit more lofty for Williamson, who signed with South Florida-based agent David Canter at about noon Wednesday.
"Troy is the crme de la crme," said Canter, who represents Baltimore's Travis Taylor. "I believe he'll be the best player in this draft. I really do."
Pro teams already are intrigued by Williamson's less than 4.4 seconds-speed in the 40-yard dash, his size (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), his hands and route-running, Canter said. One NFL general manager said he views Williamson as a top-15 pick.
Scott Wright, of NFLdraft countdown.com, has projected Williamson as an early second-round pick. Wright also says that Williamson is the 46th-best player in the draft, but he is the fifth receiver on the list, behind Mike Williams, most recently with Southern California, Michigan's Braylon Edwards, Oklahoma's Mark Clayton and Ohio State's Santonio Holmes.
Canter said he and his client's goal is to vault Williamson - who is already in Florida training - up toward Williams and Edwards, if not ahead of them.
"That's our goal," he said. "Troy's goal is to be the higest rated player at his position."
Williamson caught 43 passes for a Southeastern Conference-high 835 yards and seven touchdowns this season for South Carolina.
The season, which netted him a first-team All-SEC selection, was nearly the combined output of his freshman and sophomore years.
He completely shed the reputation, very early in the year, that he was a track athlete who happened to play football.
"I think he developed into a total receiver," said Rick Stockstill, who coached the Gamecocks receivers this past year.
A phone message left with Williamson was not immediately returned.
The 21-year-old, via his agent, faxed a letter to various news outlets and South Carolina's athletics department, announcing his intention. A copy went to athletic director Mike McGee's office.
In the letter, Williamson thanked coaches and other school officials for helping him during his three years at the university.
He said he made the decision to turn pro after "long and prayerful consideration." He also said it was the toughest decision he's ever made in his life.
Williamson began mulling the notion of an early departure even before the season concluded, his mother said.
"I could tell before the last two of three games that he was thinking about it," Shirley Williamson said. "You could tell it was on his mind."
Silver Bluff coach Al Lown said he thought Williamson made his decision based on his desire to provide for his family.
"I think he made the right decision for him," Lown said. "This community and our school is very proud of him."
Reach Travis Haney at (706) 823-3304 or firstname.lastname@example.org.