PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh running back LeSean McCoy is passing up his final two seasons of eligibility to enter the NFL draft, after breaking several of Tony Dorsett's records while leading the Panthers to a 9-4 record and Sun Bowl appearance this season.
McCoy, a sophomore who is draft-eligible because he attended prep school for a year, had said in November 2008 that he was returning to Pitt for his junior season. Even as late as Jan. 5, Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt said McCoy had told him he was staying.
However, McCoy told Wannstedt of his decision to go pro in a phone call on Jan. 7. The two met Friday, but a teary-eyed McCoy couldn't make up his mind. He delayed the decision again Monday.
McCoy, at 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds, said his NFL research showed he may be the second running back off the board in the first round, behind Georgia's Knowshon Moreno. NFL scouts project him as a late first-round to early second-round pick.
"I'm shifty," McCoy said. "I can make you miss. I can do a lot of things. I got a good report. I love Pitt, but this is a great opportunity.
"You never know what could happen. I just want to take care of my family."
Losing McCoy is a major setback to Pitt, which played in its first bowl game and had its first winning record in four seasons largely because of his running and a strong defense.
"When you have exceptionally gifted players, you realize the NFL can be a reality sooner rather than later," said Wannstedt, the former Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins coach. "Certainly that is the case with LeSean and we worked to make sure he had all the information needed to make the best decision about his pro prospects."
McCoy rushed for 1,488 yards and 21 touchdowns this season, and 2,816 yards and 35 TDs in two seasons, or more yardage and touchdowns than former Heisman Trophy winner Dorsett had in his first two Pitt seasons.
This season, McCoy's top games included 183 yards against West Virginia; 169 against Notre Dame; 156 against Navy; and 149 against Syracuse.
McCoy had 331 yards in two games against the Mountaineers, including 148 in Pitt's 13-9 upset win in 2007 that kept West Virginia out of the BCS title game.
"One of my goals in coming here was to help my teammates and coaches bring Pitt back to its rightful place among the prominent teams in college football," McCoy said.
In late November, McCoy said he would return to Pitt because he felt he needed more time to mature and had more to accomplish in college.
McCoy changed his mind following a 3-0 bowl game loss to Oregon State on Dec. 31, apparently after talking to former Pitt receiver Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals, among others. Fitzgerald, a former Heisman Trophy runner-up, also left Pitt after two seasons.
Pitt's staff believes McCoy began leaning toward leaving when he got away from his teammates and coaches and returned to his home in Harrisburg, Pa. The team's poor performance -- the lowest-scoring bowl in 50 years -- apparently did not influence his decision. He ran for 85 yards in the loss.
"I think during the past two weeks he finally had an opportunity to reflect on his opportunities," Wannstedt said. "I know firsthand how enticing the NFL can be for young men, both financially and from the standpoint of realizing a lifelong dream of playing pro football."
McCoy joins a growing list this year of prominent running backs who will leave school early, including Moreno; Chris "Beanie" Wells of Ohio State; Donald Brown of Connecticut; P.J. Hill of Wisconsin; and Shonn Greene of Iowa.
McCoy is eligible for the draft because he has been out of high school for three years. He played the 2006 season at a prep school after seriously injuring his right ankle during his senior season at Bishop McDevitt High School in 2005.
The major injury -- a bone broke through the skin of McCoy's leg while he was on the field -- required extensive rehabilitation and apparently helped sway McCoy's decision. After he was hurt, a number of major colleges backed off recruiting him.
"As a result of a season-ending injury my senior year, I learned a humbling lesson," McCoy said. "Nothing is promised to us and it can all be taken away in a moment."
Information from The Associated Press and ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad was used in this report.