"This was an extremely difficult decision for me," Bridgewater said in a statement released by the school on Wednesday. "I can't express how much my time at Louisville has meant to me. These past three years have allowed me to mature as a person and leave the university as a better person and with my degree in hand, which was one of my goals.
"I will cherish every moment on the field and off the field, and every bond I built."
Bridgewater, 21, is the top-rated quarterback prospect by ESPN's Todd McShay and the No. 8 player overall. He graduated last month with a degree in sports administration, the first member of his family to graduate from college.
Bridgewater took to Twitter on Wednesday afternoon to offer his thanks:
Time flies when you're having fun. Thankful for the many relationships formed and the many lessons learned over these past 3 years. #L1C4
— Teddy Bridgewater (@teddyb_h2o) January 1, 2014
Two weeks ago, Bridgewater told ESPN that if he decided to turn pro early, it'd be so he could "finally say I reached my ultimate goal, and it would change my mom's life [financially]."
"I can make an impact on my environment, where I grew up in Miami, showing there's no restrictions what you can reach," Bridgewater said on Dec. 16. "That someone from the same neighborhood can make it out."
Bridgewater threw for a career-high 447 yards and three touchdowns and earned MVP honors as Louisville beat Miami 36-9 in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
He had his second consecutive strong season for the Cardinals (12-1), completing 71 percent of his passes for 3,970 yards with 31 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
In three seasons as a starter, Bridgewater won 27 games and was third in school history with 9,817 passing yards and 72 TD throws.