Charles leaving school to enter NFL draft

AUSTIN, Texas -- Jamaal Charles was the fourth Longhorn to rush for more than 1,500 yards in a season. He'll be the first from a list that includes a pair of Heisman Trophy winners to leave early for the NFL.

The junior running back, who had 1,619 yards and 18 touchdowns this season, announced Wednesday he will enter the NFL draft.

Charles joined Cedric Benson and Heisman winners Ricky Williams and Earl Campbell as the only Longhorns to rush for more than 1,500 yards in a season.

His biggest game of the season was a career-high 290 yards in a 28-25 win over Nebraska in which he had 216 yards and three long TDs in the fourth quarter. He also had 161 yards and two touchdowns in Texas' Pacific Life Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State. Texas finished 10-3.

He indicated after the bowl game he would return but had filed paperwork with the NFL to test where he might get drafted. The response, which he did not disclose, prompted his decision, he said in a statement released by the school.

"Playing in the NFL has always been my dream and when the NFL report came back, I was happy with the grade and felt like it was best for me to enter the draft," said Charles, who led the Big 12 in rushing.

The first high-profile player to declare early for the draft, Charles could be joined by running backs Darren McFadden of Arkansas, a Heisman finalist, and Steve Slaton of West Virginia, among others.

Charles is the rare Texas player to leave coach Mack Brown early. Quarterback Vince Young, who led Texas to the 2005 national championship, is the only other Longhorn to enter the draft early in Brown's 10 seasons in Austin.

Brown figured he would lose a major contributor before ever coaching a game at Texas, but Williams shocked everyone by returning for his senior season -- Brown's first with the Longhorns -- in 1998. Williams won the Heisman that year.

Charles' 3,328 yards rushing rank fourth in school history, trailing Williams, Benson and Campbell.

"We appreciate everything Jamaal has done for Texas and want to wish him all of the best," Brown said. "He has been a great player for us and more importantly a tremendous person, student and representative of our program."

A slashing runner with sprinter's speed, Charles averaged 6.2 yards per carry this season. After being dogged by early-season fumbling problems -- including a key drop near the goal line in a 28-21 loss to Oklahoma -- he flourished down the stretch, averaging 180 yards over the final five games.

He was a four-time All-American in track for the Longhorns and ran a career-best 10.23-second 100 meters to win the Big 12 title as a freshman in 2006.

Charles' departure leaves quarterback Colt McCoy as the team's leading returning rusher. McCoy had 492 yards while the top returning tailback, Vondrell McGee, had 297 yards on 75 carries and eight TDs.

Texas also announced Wednesday that assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator Larry Mac Duff is leaving after one season on the Texas staff. A 36-year coaching veteran, Mac Duff spent four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers before joining the Longhorns.

Texas had one of the worst defenses in the country, giving up an average of 33.4 points over the final five games.

"Larry and I met this morning and he informed me that he is not returning for the 2008 season, citing philosophical differences," Brown said. "Larry is a great coach and man and we appreciate all he's done for our program."