Rasheed, who would have been a senior linebacker and returning captain for the Alabama football team next fall, called the decision, "the hardest and toughest" he has ever had to mjake "as a person and a football player."
Rasheed was accompanied by his family and Bama Head Coach Dennis Franchione as he announced his decision. He was forced to make a declaration of his intentions by 4 p.m. CST Friday if he wanted to enter the NFL draft. He indicated that on Thursday he had come to the conclusion he would by-pass his final college season, but said he was stressed and "did not want to make a final decision until I slept on it." He made his final decision Friday morning.
"I tried not to think about it during the season," he said, adding that all his football focus was on trying to get "those last four wins." Alabama won its last four games to finish 7-5. He said, "I really started thinking about it a couple of days after the bowl game," adding that it seemed like a short time to make his decision.
Rasheed said he met with Franchione and Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach Carl Torbush and valued their advice. He said both coaches wanted him to stay and both thought it would be the best thing for him to stay at Alabama another year, but, he said, "Both of them told me I had to make a decision I would be comfortable with and was best for me."
He said he also relied on information from the NFL Advisory Service, and said he had been told he is projected as a second round draft choice. Rasheed added, "That could go up with a good Pro Day (a physical and mental evaluation)."
Franchione said that he was grateful for the one year he had with Rasheed, a three-year starter at linebacker for the Tide. Franchione said, "All we tried to do was assemble information for Saleem. He and his family did a good job of getting information to make a decision. I know that education is important to him and I know he will get his degree." The Tide coach said that Rasheed's seventh place ranking on Alabama's all-time tackle list is evidence of how good a player he is. "You don't lose a great player and just throw someone else in there," the coach said. "But that's why we go through spring training and recuiting."
Rasheed said he knew that Alabama fans would be sad at his leaving, that some would probably be mad. "I'm not asking for forgiveness," he said. "All I'm asking for is understanding. My coaches told me to make a decision I would be comfortable with, and I am at peace with my decision." He said he spent "countless hours praying and countless hours talking to my family."
He said he would miss everyone associated with the football program, calling his teammates "like comrades in war."
And, he said, "The things I take from this University will be with me forever."
Although tackle statistics have been kept for only about the past 30 years, Rasheed's 280 career tackles is seventh on that chart. He had 115 tackles in his final season. In 34 games he had six sacks for 35 yards and 19 other tackles behind the line for 58 yards. He caused three fumbles and recovered two and broke up seven passes. In addition to his 115 tackles as a junior, he had three of his sacks, seven of his tackles behind the line, two caused fumbles and five passes broken up.
Rasheed said that one reason he elected to enter the NFL draft is that he thought he had the best of his three seasons in 2001.
The 6-3, 227-pound Birmingham native played both inside and outside linebacker in his Bama career.
He said he would take good memories of his Alabama football career, noting the 1999 Southeastern Conference championship and the arrival of the new coaching staff prior to last season as highlights. "I have a love for this University and this program and for the purity of college football," he said. "The thing that makes it toughest is the love I have for my teammates and the respect I have for the coaches. This is a new program headed in the right direction, and I think I'm a big part of it."
Rasheed, who is an excellent student who could have earned his degree before the beginning of his senior season, said, "Academics has always been important to me. I don't want young people to think that I'm putting football ahead of academics. I will attain my degree within the next year."