- Scott Powers, Reporter
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Illinois junior running back Mikel Leshoure announced Tuesday he will forgo his final college season and enter the NFL draft.
"I believe I've accomplished everything I can at the college level and want to go after my dream of playing in the NFL," said Leshoure, who announced his decision at his former high school Champaign Centennial. "I've had a wonderful experience at the University of Illinois and will always consider myself an Illini."
The 6-foot, 230-pound Leshoure is the third Illini player in as many days to reach such a decision. Linebacker Martez Wilson announced his NFL intentions on Monday. Defensive lineman Corey Liuget said Tuesday he will enter the next NFL draft.
Illini coach Ron Zook said Leshoure had grown up while at Illinois.
"I am extremely proud of how Mikel has matured as a young man and leader for our football team since his arrival at Illinois," Zook said. "He'll be remembered here as one of the greatest running backs in Illinois football history."
Leshoure set school season records with 1,697 rushing yards, 122 points, 20 touchdown and nine 100-yard games in 2010.
Leshoure rushed for 917 yards and 10 touchdowns in his last five games. He drew national attention with his school-record 330-yard performance against Northwestern at Wrigley Field and shined in Illinois' win over Baylor in the Texas Bowl with 184 yards and three touchdowns.
After watching Leshoure in the Texas Bowl, ESPN NFL draft analyst Steve Muench viewed him as a potential third-round pick.
"I think he goes in the third round if he comes out, but again his timed speed will have an impact," Muench said. "As far as coming out or staying, I always say that it's a personal decision, and I don't know his financial situation. But I think the more experience players get at the collegiate level the better, and he could greatly improve his stock by returning to school for another year and working on his weaknesses."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information from ESPN's Joe Schad and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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