Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus has decided he will leave the Illini a season early and try his hand at the NFL. The consensus first team All-American announced the decision in a school release, which you can read below.
“First, I want to congratulate my teammates and coaches for a great win against UCLA in the Fight Hunger Bowl — it was a great feeling to get back to winning, especially with a defensive performance like we had,” Mercilus said in a statement. “With that said, after a lot of prayer and discussion with my family, I have decided the time is right for me to forego my senior year and enter the 2012 NFL draft.
“I want to thank coach (Ron) Zook, coach (Vic) Koenning, coach (Keith) Gilmore and the entire Illini staff for helping me get to this point. To the entire Illinois community — students, professors, athletic department and fans — thank you for all of your support during my time here in Champaign; these have been some of the best times of my life and I will never forget all that this university means to me. Finally, thank you to my teammates — without you guys, I would not be in the position to make this decision. I have faith that Illinois will rise to the top and I will be there to support you.”
Mercilus led the country and tied a school regular season record with 16 sacks this season. He also broke the Big Ten’s single-season record with nine forced fumbles and ranked second in the country with 22.5 TFL’s.