University of Kentucky tight end Derek Smith will forego his final season of collegiate eligibility and enter the National Football League draft, he announced Monday.
"I've always had the dream, always wanted to play in the NFL," Smith said. "It's been a really tough decision, but I think now is the best time. The NFL is looking for tight ends and it is a good year for me to come out in the draft.
"There have been a lot of rumors flying around that I was unhappy at UK and that is not true. I have a really good relationship with Coach (Guy) Morriss. I was one of the guys who fought for him to be the coach. Coach Morriss was one of the reasons I wanted to come back. I want everybody to understand my love for UK.
"I want to thank my parents, family, God, and Coach Morriss for the chance to play football and how I've been treated as a person. These are the most important people in my life."
As a sophomore in 2000, Smith was named first-team All-SEC by The Associated Press, SEC Coaches, The Sporting News, Football News, College Sports Southeast TV Network, and CollegeFootballNews.com. He led the team in receiving with 50 catches for 716 yards and five touchdowns. His top performances featured a career-high eight catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns at Florida, five catches for 108 yards vs. Georgia, and six receptions for 102 yards vs. Mississippi State. He was a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award for the nation's top tight end and was an honorable-mention All-American by Football News.
Smith played in every game as a freshman during the 1999 season, serving as a backup to All-American James Whalen. He caught nine passes for 112 yards, including six receptions for 85 yards against Tennessee. After Whalen was injured in the Music City Bowl, Smith entered the game and caught five passes for 56 yards.
For his career, Smith is 10th in school history in pass receptions (89) and receiving yardage (1,224). He had nine career TDs and caught three two-point conversions.
"Obviously, we would have liked Derek to wear the blue-and-white next year, but that was a decision he and his family had to make," Morriss said. "As I told Derek, he's always welcome here. We'll be glad to do anything we can to help him reach his goals. We wish him the very best and appreciate all the effort he's given us."