LOS ANGELES -- Mike Williams is passing up a possible shot
at the Heisman Trophy for the NFL.
The USC receiver became the first sophomore to opt for the NFL
draft since the Maurice Clarett court ruling, when he announced his
Williams, a 6-foot-5, 230-pounder, leaves with two years of
eligibility remaining for the defending national champion Trojans.
"It was a very, very, very difficult decision," Williams said
on a conference call from his home in Tampa, Fla. "This is my
opportunity. A lot of great opportunities don't come along in life
to do great things.
"A lifelong goal of mine is to play in the NFL. I've always had
the dream of playing the game at the highest level. My love for the
university alone was enough to stay."
Williams has hired agent Mike Azzarelli of
Tampa, so there's definitely no turning back.
Williams is expected to be selected high in the first
round of April's draft rather than competing for the Heisman Trophy
as a top player for the Trojans.
"He'll be a high pick. There's no question about it," said Gil
Brandt, the NFL's chief scouting consultant.
Williams, an All-American who turned 20 last month, said after
USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl that he planned to stay in
Then came the Clarett ruling.
Clarett was suspended last season after starring at Ohio State
as a freshman. He went to court to challenge an NFL rule preventing
players less than three years out of high school from entering the
draft, and a federal judge ruled in his favor.
Williams is one of several standout wideouts available in the
upcoming draft, along with Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald and Texas'
He figured to be alone at the top next year, and said that
played into his decision in an unorthodox way.
"This is a receiver-loaded draft," Williams said. "That's
where the competition's at. I want to be where the competition
Williams said the cons probably outweighed the pros regarding
the decision, but ultimately they weren't decisive.
"Most of the cons were financial ones, let's put it that way,"
he said. "Money wasn't the motive or the drive. If that was the
case, I'd stay in school four years to maximize my potential.
"The possibility of winning the Heisman Trophy, the possibility
of winning an undisputed national championship -- I was really close
to staying for all those reasons. At the same time, I have reasons
of my own. The opportunity came about."
Williams finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting last
season when he caught 95 passes for 1,314 yards and a school-record
16 touchdowns as the Trojans (12-1) won The Associated Press
Williams caught 81 passes for 1,265 yards and 13 TDs from
Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer as a freshman in 2002.
"Mike has made his decision that he wants to go to the NFL,"
USC coach Pete Carroll said in a statement. "We're disappointed to
see him go. ... Mike had a terrific two years for us and we're
anxious to watch him in the NFL."
Williams said he had not thought about coming out until getting
a phone call from a lifelong friend early last week asking why it
was not under consideration.
"That just got the ball rolling," Williams said.
"I'm going to take my opportunity to go through a door that was
opened by someone else."
The Trojans still should be
loaded next season because the 2003 team featured so many
underclassmen. Quarterback Matt Leinart will be a junior, and most
of the deep corps of running backs will be sophomores.
USC will lack experience at wide receiver without Williams. But
Steve Smith showed potential as a freshman last season, and the
Trojans signed two highly regarded high school prospects earlier
"Our team is well-prepared to handle Mike's leaving," Carroll
said. "Last year we lost the Heisman Trophy winner (Palmer) and
one of the best defensive players in the country (Troy Polamalu)
and still won. It'll be fun to see who steps up."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.