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McDonald to return for senior season

USC safety T.J. McDonald announced Wednesday he will return for his senior season in 2012.

McDonald, a true junior, was believed to be a potential second-round draft pick in next April’s NFL draft, if he chose to declare. But he said the lure of chasing a national championship with the Trojans next year was too much to turn down.

“Being a captain of this team and being a part of that greatness, that opportunity to do something great doesn’t come around very often,” McDonald said in a video posted on thes school’s official site. “I want to continue being a part of that and I want to come back, finish things out and be a part of something great.”

A two-year starter for USC, McDonald was one of two defensive captains for the Trojans in 2011. He recorded 67 tackles, third-highest on the team, and a team-high three interceptions, as well as a fumble recovery and a blocked kick.

He was named a Pro Football Weekly All-American earlier this month.

“We’re obviously very excited about T.J.’s decision to return next year,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said in a statement. “He’ll be a leading candidate for the Thorpe Award in 2012 and he has a chance to be a two-time All-American, plus he will captain our team for a second straight year and graduate.”

McDonald said he considered leaving for the NFL “really strongly” and added that he was at times “leaning that way.”

But, “after looking at the big picture, after looking at everything, I think that I’m making the right decision,” he said. “USC is a very powerful place and something that I want to be a part of, this university – not just for three years and cut this story short but be able to finish this out for all four years.

USC now returns its entire linebacking and defensive backs corps in 2012, which both Kiffin and McDonald spotlighted Wednesday.

The Trojans began the offseason with four draft-eligible juniors facing decisions on whether or not to go to the NFL. Two of them, left tackle Matt Kalil and defensive end Nick Perry, chose to go pro. With McDonald’s decision, quarterback Matt Barkley is now the only other player still making up on his mind on what to do.

The deadline to declare is Jan. 15; the deadline to pull out of the draft once declared is Jan. 18.