Faine announces intention to enter NFL draft

By Mike Frank<BR> The IrishEyes News Service<BR><BR> <P>(IE)- Notre Dame offensive center Jeff Faine officially announced this morning that he will be bypassing his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft. </P>

"After careful consideration with my family and coaches and everybody," Faine said, "I've decided to finish school in May and graduate in May and move on to the draft. I plan on entering my name into the draft this spring."

Throughout Notre Dame's 10-3 season, Faine considered entering the NFL draft. It didn't diminish his focus, however, and clearly didn't take away from his performance. "I had thought about it all year," the 6-3, 298-pounder from Sanford, FL said. "I was waiting on my petition. I actually didn't get my petition back from the advisory board until this past Monday so that was the last step. I just wanted to make sure. I had thought about it all year but still tried to maintain my focus on the team. That was number one, of course."

Faine did receive the grade he was looking for from the advisory board. He's projected as a second round pick in the April 2003 NFL Draft. "I got back a good grade," Faine, a 35-game starter in South Bend, said. "I got back what I expected to get. I got a final grade of the second round and I got some pretty good feedback as well. It was pretty much what I was looking for and all I could really expect coming from the center position. Most centers don't get drafted until the second round anyway. If I got a third round or higher, then I would have been back. That would have been too many question marks for me."

The first center taken in the 2002 NFL draft was LeCharles Bentley of Ohio State. The New Orleans Saints selected him with 12th pick in the second round (44th overall). Fred Weary of Tennessee was the first pick in the third round (66th overall) by Houston. Interestingly enough, both Bentley and Weary were starters on Sundays this season – at guard.

Losing a key player with eligibility remaining is never easy on any coach and Faine—-who played more minutes than any other Irish player this season--indicated that Tyrone Willingham didn't want his star player to leave. "He definitely wanted me to come back and he definitely urged me to come back," Faine stressed. "Once he figured out that I was pretty concrete in my decision, he gave me his blessing and thought I was making the right decision for me personally. I think he handled it the best he could."

Faine also tapped into some advice from some former Notre Dame teammates and past stars. "I talked to Mike Gandy and Rocky Boiman," Faine said. "I actually just started talking to Aaron Taylor, just on general life basically. I just hooked up with him for the first time at (the) USC (game). But for the most part, it has been Mike Gandy that I have talked to about the NFL draft and just getting ready and how to lift."

Gandy was the last Irish offensive lineman to be drafted – in the third round (68th pick overall) by the Chicago Bears in 2001. Luke Petitgout, 19th overall by the New York Giants in 1999, was the last ND offensive lineman to be drafted in the first round.

According to the Notre Dame Football Media Guide, the last Notre Dame center to be drafted was Tim Ruddy, in the second round (65th overall) by the Miami Dolphins in 1994. Gene McGuire (1992, fourth round) and Mike Heldt (1991, 10th round) were the other Irish snappers drafted in the 90's.

Faine plans to finish his degree and graduate before he moves on to the draft. He's in the College of Arts and Letters, majoring in film, television and theatre. With a major like that, it's too bad the NFL doesn't have a team in LA to draft Faine. "It's going to be worthwhile to finish my degree and not just pull out and come back and get it later," he said. "That's going to be my goal to finish up and to get what I came there for in the first part which was my degree."

Faine will be difficult to replace next year for the Irish. Zach Giles and Bob Morton figure on being the two challengers to replace him and Faine couldn't handicap that race. "I really couldn't give you a hands down favorite," he said. "Bob Morton, I can't put my finger on it with him yet because he has been injured all year. He has a lot of raw talent, came in and looked like a very well coached player. If he has the hands up on Zach Giles at all, it's from a pure technique. I think it's going to be a good battle between those two. I think Darin Mitchell might even be in the mix there so it's going to be an interesting spring at that position."

In recruiting circles, Giles was a highly regarded offensive guard prospect from Marshfield, MA, in the 2001 recruiting class. Morton, from McKinney, TX ,was widely considering the top center prospect in the country in the 2002 recruiting class.

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