Bradford, others to return to Oklahoma

Updated: January 15, 2009, 12:32 PM ET
By Tim Griffin | ESPN.com

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford announced Wednesday that he will return to college for another season.

The Heisman Trophy winner's announcement came at the same time that two other key offensive teammates similarly announced they will be coming back. Tackle Trent Williams and tight end Jermaine Gresham will return. Earlier this week, Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy also announced he will return for next season.

Bradford had been projected as a first-round draft choice and among the first quarterbacks selected in the draft. But the chance to return and lead Oklahoma to its first national championship since 2000 and direct the Sooners to an unprecedented fourth straight Big 12 title lured him back.

"After looking at all the information and the opportunities, I feel that it's in the best interest for me to come back," Bradford said.

Bradford, whose father played football at Oklahoma under Barry Switzer in the mid-1970s, said he wavered for several days about returning to college or declaring for the draft.

"I've dreamed about playing at Oklahoma since I was little," Bradford said. "My three years here have been probably three of the best years of my life. ... I feel there's no need to cut this experience short."

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The gloom of another Oklahoma BCS bowl loss was brightened considerably when Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford and three other key players announced they are returning to school after considering declaring for the NFL draft, Tim Griffin writes. Blog

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said the players' return was bigger than the boost he could have expected from recruiting day next month.

"We're excited about this for a couple of reasons," Stoops said. "It makes our team stronger with that experience and talent coming back for another year. And hopefully, it sends a clear message to other young guys that these players value their experience in college and their education."

Stoops said the decisions to return might have been affected by the draft status of Sooners players Curtis Lofton, Malcolm Kelly and Reggie Smith last season. All had been projected highly when they made their announcements in January, but slipped before the draft was conducted.

Bradford led the nation with 50 touchdown passes and in pass efficiency. He ranked third with 4,720 passing yards. His 86 touchdown passes is by far the NCAA's record for players after two seasons.

The announcement came six days after the Sooners lost 24-14 to Florida in the FedEx BCS Championship Game in Miami. It was the Sooners' fifth straight BCS bowl game loss and third consecutive loss in a championship game.

"We move on," Stoops said. "We're already on to next year in our focus and what we are looking at. Having these guys back for next season is really exciting when you look at all the people we have coming back on defense and offense. We have an opportunity to have really a special year because of the quality depth and experience we have coming back."

Bradford and the other players had until Thursday to decide if they wanted to enter the NFL draft or remain in college.

"I did go back and forth several times, and I really didn't put much thought into it before the national championship game," Bradford said. "So there's a lot to comprehend in a short period of time. But I feel like this is where my heart is and where I want to be."

Bradford's decision marks the fourth time in the past six seasons that a Heisman Trophy winner has elected to return for another college season after claiming college football's most prestigious individual honor.

Oklahoma quarterback Jason White, USC quarterback Matt Leinart and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow all returned for another season after winning their Heismans. Tebow, who led Florida to the BCS national championship earlier this month, announced on Sunday that he will return for his senior season.

With the return of Bradford, Colt McCoy and Tebow, it will mark only the second time in history and the first time since 1945 that the top three Heisman finishers all will return for another season of college football.

In 1945, Doc Blanchard of Army won the award with Army's Glenn Davis finishing second and Oklahoma A&M's Bob Fenimore placing third.

The following season, Davis won the Heisman and Blanchard was fourth. Fenimore was injured most of the season and didn't crack the Heisman's top five.

Tim Griffin covers college football for ESPN.com. You may contact him at espntimgriff@yahoo.com.