Decision-making process risky business for juniors
Taylor Mays has no regrets about finishing his senior season at Southern Cal.
Eric Berry saw no sense in risking everything one more time at Tennessee.
The top two safeties in this year's NFL draft exemplify the high-stakes choice dozens of college underclassmen debate each winter: Should they stay in school or should they jump to the NFL?
"He told me I'd be a fool to come back," Berry said with a laugh explaining the advice his defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, provided.
Kiffin's NFL pedigree helped Berry make an informative choice, one that could bring in millions of dollars by August. The junior is projected to be a top-five pick in April and could become the first safety to go No. 1 overall since 1956.
Mays made the other choice, going back to school to win a national championship, become a more complete player and improve his draft position. Things didn't work out that way.
The Trojans went 9-4, Mays was criticized for not living up to the hype and now Berry has surpassed him as the top-rated safety. While Mays could have gone in the top half of the first round last year, as the No. 1 safety, he's now ranked No. 2 and could slide into the bottom of the first round - costing him millions.
But Mays isn't second-guessing the decision.
"I was close (to leaving) and then at the end, I just got my eyes put onto the prize of trying to be the best, one more time," he said at this weekend's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis. "Trying to learn the game a little bit more. It wasn't about coming out for the money or for the fame. It was more about coming out to really just be a finished product, and take all the chances I had to be the best safety I could be."
Berry and Mays are the lucky ones. Both are still likely to go in the first-round draft picks despite any perceived flaws.
Others aren't so fortunate.
NFL defensive end Adewale Ogunleye likely would have been a first- or second-round choice after his junior season at Indiana. But he went back to school, injured his knee and wound making the Miami Dolphins in 2000 as an undrafted free agent.
It happens, and making the right choice can be as risky as a poker. There are no assurances, no set standards, and little historical evidence to help with the choice.
This year 53 underclassmen have declared for the draft. Some of the names are familiar - Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant and Berry. Others, such as Nevada defensive end Kevin Basped and Marshall running back Darius Marshall, are still trying to prove themselves.
Why stay in school?
"I came back to become a better football player, and I feel like I did that, came back to help some of the young guys on my team learn like older guys before helped me," Mays said. "That was important to me. I feel like regardless of what our record is, or how I played the season, that's what I accomplished.
The reasons for leaving can be very personal.
Clausen, for instance, thought he did as much as he could in 2010. Bradford didn't want to risk another shoulder injury that would make scouts question his durability.
McCoy thought it was time to help out his family, and Berry, well, he wanted to give his dad a break.
"I had to put my family pretty much before my school," Berry said. "Ever since I can remember, my mom and dad were always working. My dad worked two jobs. My dad just recently had heart surgery and I really just wanted him to be able to sit down and just enjoy life for a little bit. I felt I could do that by entering the draft and making that situation better."