Head coach Les Miles, who on Monday accepted the challenge of succeeding Nick Saban at LSU, isn't the only major figure departing the Oklahoma State football program.
Just hours after Miles was introduced as the new LSU head coach, star tailback Vernand Morency said he will forgo his senior season with the Cowboys to enter the NFL draft. The third-leading rusher in the Big 12 this season, Morency already has submitted his paperwork to the NFL and has signed a standard representation agreement with agents Drew and Jason Rosenhaus of Miami.
"Something like this is always a hard decision, because the people at Oklahoma State are like family to me, and they have helped to make me what I am," said Morency, a Miami-area native. "I'm going to miss everything about the school, but especially my friends and teammates, and the coaches. But I just think the time is right for me."
Morency rushed for 1,496 yards and 12 touchdowns on 250 carries in 2004, and only Cedric Benson of Texas and Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson gained more yards in the Big 12. He ran for at least 100 yards in each of the first seven games.
In 2003, Morency began to draw attention when he replaced injured starter Tatum Bell, now with the Denver Broncos, and rushed for 918 yards.
Although he did not participate in the evaluation process for underclass prospects, in which a group of about a dozen league scouts assesses a player's possible draft stock, Morency has spoken to NFL scouts. He is expected to be a high-round choice and his aspiration is to be selected in the first round, a goal agent Drew Rosenhaus sounded confident is within his player's reach.
Two scouts contacted Monday afternoon said that, although their evaluation of Morency is still in the early stages, he likely will be a high-round pick. Scouts are precluded from speaking for attribution about underclass players until they are officially accepted into the draft by NFL officials.
Morency said his decision was affected, in part, by Miles' departure.
"With coach Miles leaving, I just feel mentally and physically
ready to go and make my presence felt in the NFL," Morency said.
"There's no doubt I'm the top back in America. I said that before
the season, and I'm sticking to my guns."
Miles' move wasn't the only motivator, however. Morency also allowed that turning pro was something he thought about during the season.
"One thing about me, when I get something in my mind, it's full speed ahead," Morency said. "So I researched things [regarding his possible draft position] pretty well and I made sure I had a good year, to set myself up, in case I decided to go into the draft. My goals are set high, and now I'm going to work even harder to achieve them."
New Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said he found out about
Morency's decision Monday.
"If he feels like this, it's what he needs to do for himself,"
Gundy said. "Then I will wish him the best."
Morency was limited to 24 yards on eight carries in the Alamo
Bowl, which the Cowboys lost 33-7 to Ohio State. Before that game,
he said he would return for his senior season so he could keep a
pact with his mother to earn his degree.
Miles' move changed Morency's mind.
"When the boss man leaves, you don't know where the team is
heading," said Morency, who turns 25 on Feb. 4.
Senior ESPN.com writer Len Pasquarelli and The Associated Press contributed to this report.