The 6-foot-5, 265-pound junior from Elizabethton will be sorely missed next fall. He caught 39 passes for 493 yards in 2002, including five for 41 yards in the Peach Bowl loss to Maryland. He undoubtedly would've been a team captain and a preseason All-American.
His voice choked with emotion, Witten noted that, ''These last few weeks have been hard on me, my family and close friends.''
As his mother, seated behind him, wiped away tears, Witten called UT fans ''the best in the country, without a doubt,'' adding that he wanted to assure them that ''I gave all I had every play.''
Then, after thanking his teammates, his coaches and his maker, he got to the gist of his statement: ''My family and I sat down and made a decision that is best for my future, and that is to forgo my senior year and enter the NFL draft.''
Witten admitted that he wavered on his decision for quite some time before coming to a decision he felt he could live with.
''It's been tough,'' he said. ''I don't think I knew for sure until last night (Sunday). I was in and out. It's amazing what emotions can do to you.''
Draft analysts suggest Witten will go somewhere between picks 15 and 40, which means he should be picked somewhere between the middle of Round 1 and the middle of Round 2. Wherever he goes, he figures to be the first player picked at his position.
''It's obvious I can be the first tight end (taken) in the draft,'' he said. ''I felt that was something I couldn't pass up. You play to be the first guy at your position, and that's all I could ask for.''