UCLA junior defensive end Brian Price announced on Wednesday that he plans to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
Price, the Pacific-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year who is projected as a first-round draft pick, indicated he planned to enter the draft in a radio interview after UCLA's win over Temple in the EagleBank Bowl Dec. 29, but was not ready to officially declare. Now he has.
"I just felt in my stomach that I was ready to compete against the best," said Price, a 300-pounder with an exceptional first step. "Being a Bruin is great, but I'm ready for the next step."
Price had a dominant junior season, recording seven sacks and 48 tackles, 23½ of those for loss. He is widely projected as the third-best defensive tackle in the draft behind Nebraska's Heisman Trophy finalist Ndamukong Suh, and Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy.
"I want what's best for Brian Price," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel told the Los Angeles Daily News after the game. "Obviously, we would love to have him back -- he's a big-time football player -- but if it's a good decision for Brian and his family to move on, we wish him the very best."
Price would be the first UCLA player taken in the first round since 2006, when the Jaguars took tight end Marcedes Lewis with the 28th overall pick. The Bruins have had just three players selected in the first round since 2000.
The 20-year-old Price was a two-time all-conference lineman, a third-team All-America selection by The Associated Press and a first- or second-team choice on several other All-America teams. He had been contemplating the NFL leap for months, but Neuheisel and Price's father, Frank, urged him to get more information about his potential draft status.
"I really wanted to be supportive of his decision, but I told him to make sure," Frank Price said. "Don't go in on emotion. Don't go in to take care of your family. We've survived long enough. Another year won't hurt us. We have a roof over our heads, dinner on the table. We're not going to go out and buy diamonds or anything now. We're going to be the same family whether you're in the NFL or at UCLA."
The Price family has tenacity. Brian Price's brothers, Eddie and Damon, were shot and killed in the same Crenshaw section of South Central Los Angeles where Brian eventually starred at Crenshaw High, staying out of gangs and in football with the steadfast help of his parents and six sisters.
"That's one of the things I love about UCLA, the family atmosphere," Brian Price said. "Family is very important to me, and that's why I love UCLA so much."
Frank Price said his son moved closer to his NFL decision during the Bruins' loss to USC in November. Brian Price made five tackles and forced a fumble in the game, but Frank Price said he also fought off a series of Trojans blockers taking aim at his lower legs.
Price also learned from the experience of former California defensive lineman Brandon Mebane, a fellow graduate of Crenshaw High, where Frank Price was an assistant coach. Mebane's exceptional junior season with the Golden Bears in 2005 led to a less-impressive senior campaign when offenses constantly double-teamed him, and Mebane let his younger friend know about it.
"Brandon has really been an inspirational person to Brian," Frank Price said of Mebane, who just finished his third season with the Seattle Seahawks. "Coach Neuheisel was great, too. He didn't act like a desperate coach. I gained so much respect for him and for UCLA in this whole process."
Neuheisel undoubtedly could have used Price next fall when the Bruins attempt to build on their 7-6 record in his second season in charge of his alma mater, but the coach refused to talk Price out of his decision. Neuheisel still is grateful to Price for his acceptance and leadership after the 2007 season when Neuheisel replaced Karl Dorrell, the fired Bruins coach who recruited Price.
"He was one of those guys that had proven he was a player here, and he still accepted the new culture," said Neuheisel, an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens before returning to UCLA. "There's always portions of his game that can improve. We're coaches, so we're always going to tinker, but I think he'll do very well at the next level. He's ready."
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.