Less than 24 hours after helping Iowa to a win in the FedEx Orange Bowl, star left tackle Bryan Bulaga announced he's entering the NFL draft.
Bulaga, named the Big Ten's Offensive Lineman of the Year, is projected as one of the nation's top tackle prospects. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors this fall despite missing three games because of a thyroid condition, which he said played a role in his decision to leave school early.
"This was not an easy decision since my Iowa experience has been very positive and rewarding," Bulaga said in a statement released through the school. "The illness I was faced with at the beginning of the 2009 season made me realize how important football is in my life and how quickly it can be taken away.
"I want to thank coach [Kirk] Ferentz, coach [Reese] Morgan and the rest of the Iowa football staff who played a significant role in my development."
The 6-6, 315-pound Bulaga earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last year and put himself on the NFL draft radar. He drew comparisons to former Iowa star lineman Robert Gallery entering the 2009 season.
Bulaga's departure along with that of guard Dace Richardson and tackle Kyle Calloway means Iowa will need to replace three all-conference offensive linemen next fall.
"Bryan has been a valued team member, well beyond his outstanding play on the field," Ferentz said in a statement. "I'm very appreciative of his efforts on the team's behalf. I am confident Bryan will do very well in the years to come and again be a valuable asset to his future team. We wish him the best and continued success."
Adam Rittenberg covers Big Ten football for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.