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Receiver piled up records in 2 seasons

PITTSBURGH -- Larry Fitzgerald finally made the decision everyone expected: to enter the NFL draft.

The Heisman Trophy runner-up said Monday that he would forgo his
collegiate career at Pittsburgh to turn professional. His
announcement came four days after he was declared eligible for the
draft.

Fitzgerald, who will turn 21 in August, is projected to go early
in the draft. Though the receiver played just two seasons with the
Panthers, that was enough time for him to break several school and
NCAA records.

"The main reason people come to college is to better your
chances of making a living, and I think that my two years that I've
had here, I've given myself a good opportunity to make a good
living ... for myself and to support my family," Fitzgerald said.

The record-setting receiver is the top-ranked prospect in the nation at his position, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. In his latest draft projections, Kiper believes Fitzgerald could be the No. 2 player taken overall, by the Oakland Raiders, behind Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning (San Diego Chargers).

He petitioned the NFL to allow him to enter the draft despite
two seasons of play. Fitzgerald left the Academy of Holy Angels in
Richfield, Minn., midway through his senior year in 2001 and
transferred to Valley Forge (Pa.) Military Academy to boost his
grades for college.

The NFL cleared the way for Fitzgerald to enter the April draft
because he is three years past his senior year of high school.

"I'm very confident in my ability," he said. "I know there's
going to be skeptics and there's going to be people out there
criticizing this and criticizing that, but all-in-all I know I can
play the game of football."

The league's decision on Fitzgerald came on the same day a federal judge ruled running back Maurice Clarett could also turn pro despite playing only one season at Ohio State.

In that ruling Thursday, the judge said NFL rules regarding its draft violate federal antitrust laws. The ruling overturned the league's rule barring players from being eligible for the draft before they were out of high school for three years.

The 20-year-old Fitzgerald was dominating last season. He finished a close second to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White in voting for the Heisman Trophy, nearly becoming the first sophomore to win the award.

He was the most proficient receiver in Pittsburgh history and set three NCAA records, including most consecutive games with a touchdown catch (18), most touchdown catches for a freshman-sophomore (34) and most yards receiving by a sophomore (1,672), besting Randy Moss' 1997 sophomore year. He tied the record for most games catching a touchdown pass in a season (12).

In 2003, Fitzgerald caught 87 passes and led all NCAA receivers
with 1,595 yards in 12 regular-season games. He had 22 touchdown
catches, at least one in each of Pitt's regular-season games. He
had five catches for 77 yards in Pitt's loss to Virginia in the
Continental Tire Bowl.

He played in all 13 games as a freshman and became a starter in
his third game. In 2002, he had 69 receptions for 1,005 yards,
easily surpassing Antonio Bryant, who caught a then-record 51
passes for 844 yards as a freshman in 1999.

Fitzgerald finished 128 votes behind White in the race for the
Heisman. He did win the Biletnikoff Trophy, awarded to college
football's top receiver, last season and the Walter Camp Award as
the nation's best player.

Fitzgerald told Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris that he was going
pro Thursday, when the NFL ruled him eligible.

"We have been blessed to be around such a special person and
outstanding athlete in Larry Fitzgerald," Harris said. "Not only
was he an unbelievable receiver, but he also set a great example of
how players should respect the game."

Despite his domination at the college level, Fitzgerald usually
trotted off the field without much celebration after his 34
touchdown catches.

"Not showboating on the field is the way I was raised," Fitzgerald said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.