Manning to return for senior season
Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 at 11:15 p.m.
JACKSON, Miss. - Just like his big brother, Eli Manning is going to complete his college career before heading to the NFL.
Manning announced Tuesday he will return for his senior season at Mississippi, instead of entering the NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound quarterback was expected to be a first-round selection had he made himself available for April's draft.
Manning's brother, Peyton, made a similar choice in 1997, when he chose to return to Tennessee for his senior year. Peyton Manning ended up being the first pick in the draft the next year by the Indianapolis Colts.
Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer of Southern California and Marshall's Byron Leftwich are expected to be the first two quarterbacks taken in this year's draft.
Manning indicated that he spoke with Peyton and his father, Archie, a star quarterback at Ole Miss from 1968-70, before making his decision.
"I plan to be a good leader, so everybody needs to be ready to go to work," Manning said Tuesday in a statement released by the university.
A spokesman for the Ole Miss athletic department said Manning was declining interview requests.
Today is the final day for underclassmen to declare for the draft.
The 22-year-old Manning holds 24 school records, including most career passing yards (6,519) and touchdown passes (52), despite only two seasons as a starter.
Manning redshirted his first season at Ole Miss, then served as Romaro Miller's backup for a season.
"I've really been impressed with the way Eli has handled this very difficult decision," Rebels coach David Cutcliffe said. "He is an outstanding person and player."
Two other SEC players have decided to stay in school, Auburn linebackers Dontarrious Thomas and Karlos Dansby said Tuesday they will return for their senior seasons instead of entering the NFL Draft.
The announcement bolsters a defense that returns eight starters from a 9-4 team.
"Both of them could have been pretty high picks," coach Tommy Tuberville said. "I don't think there's any doubt they could work on some areas."
Thomas and Dansby both got feedback from the NFL suggesting they could be drafted as high as the second round or fall all the way to free agent status. Both hope to add a few more pounds of muscle.
"I need to bulk up a little more and get a little size to me," said Thomas, who was also slowed much of the year with a knee injury. "Basically, just come back and bulk up and get more physical."
Other players decided to enter the NFL Draft.
Tennessee receiver Kelley Washington will leave school early after missing most of the season because of knee and neck injuries.
Tight end Jason Witten, a junior, announced Monday he would be eligible for the draft. No other Tennessee player is expected to leave early.
The 23-year-old Washington is a sophomore who made the team as a freshman walk-on. He said earlier this would be his last season with the Volunteers even though he has two remaining years of eligibility.
Washington, 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, had never played receiver until he came to Tennessee. He finished with 64 catches for 1,010 yards and five touchdowns his first year, setting up what was expected to be a big year in 2002.
Georgia tight end Ben Watson will skip his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. He is the fourth Georgia player to give up his final year of eligibility for the April draft.
The others are running back Musa Smith, defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan and linebacker Chris Clemons.
"He has changed his mind," Watson's father, Kenneth Watson, said Monday. "He's definitely going to do it."
The 6-foot-3, 270-pound Watson was Georgia's third-leading receiver last season. He had 31 receptions for 341 yards and three touchdowns.
Offensive tackle Kwame Harris will skip his senior season at Stanford to enter the draft. Harris started every game for the past two seasons with the Cardinal, who went 2-9 last season. The 6-foot-7, 308-pound Harris was chosen as the top lineman in the Pac-10 Conference this season.
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