Sears mulled his options at length 12 months ago, then decided to return for 2006. With the Big Orange 9-3 and headed for a Jan. 1 Outback Bowl date with Penn State, he's awfully glad he did.
"That was one of the best decisions I ever made," said Sears, a 6-4, 320-pound senior offensive tackle from Russellville, Ala. "I usually don't look back on any decision I've ever made, and this one I won't look back on. But I'm glad I came back. We didn't go undefeated but we still had a great year."
Sears says his season highlight was helping Tennessee hang 37 second-half points on Georgia in a 51-33 win, despite missing practice all week with an ankle injury. His toughness and tenacity helped him earn recognition on several post-season All-America teams.
Sears was projected to be a second- to third-round pick had he turned pro following his junior year. He hasn't heard any projections yet for the 2007 NFL Draft but figures a good senior season has improved his stock.
"Everybody's hoping to go first round," he said, adding: "I'd like to be able to provide for my family."