No surprise: KW opts for NFL

Two years after he dropped out of pro baseball, Kelley Washington is entering the world of pro football.

Washington announced today (Tuesday) that he is filing papers with the National Football League, declaring himself eligible for the April draft. That effectively ends his career as a wide receiver for the University of Tennessee.

After a four-year stint in the Florida Marlins' minor league system, Washington joined the Vol football program as a walk-on in the spring of 2001 and quickly established himself as a budding star. Although he hadn't played football since his high school days in Stephens City, Va., four years earlier, he led the '01 Vols in receptions (64) and receiving yards (1,010), earning Freshman All-America honors from The Sporting News.

A preseason Playboy All-American last August, Washington saw his senior season hampered by health problems. Ultimately, a neck injury suffered in the fourth quarter of Tennessee's 18-13 loss at Georgia caused him to miss the season's final seven games.

Although he played in just four of Tennessee's 13 games in 2002, Washington caught 23 passes for 443 yards. He averaged 5.8 catches and 110.8 receiving yards per game. He would've been a junior next fall, had he elected to return to school.

''I want to communicate to the greatest fans and coaches in college football my current situation and future," Washington said in a statement released by the UT sports information office.

The rest of that statement follows:

''I came to the University of Tennessee because of its great coaching staff and rich tradition in football. The coaches have been geat to me in teaching me skills as a wide receiver. I came to the University of Tennessee as a walk-on. My vision and dream was to become a great receiver and contribute to the team's goal of competing for a national championship.

''In January of last year, I decided not to enter the NFL draft so I could help the team and improve my skills as a wide receiver. I made this decision in what I thought would be the best for my family, the team and me. During the Georgia game I was injured and could not continue to play because of the injury. While I was on the sideline, I had a difficult time watching and not participating. If you don't walk in my shoes, I know it is hard for you to realize how I felt and how much I missed playing. However, the doctors told me I couldn't play until I had fully recovered from my injury.

''I was frustrated that I couldn't be on the field to help the team. I missed running through the 'T' and hearing the fans cheer me on. I decided to have surgery to correct my injury. The surgery was successful and the doctors are pleased with the results.

''After much thought and prayer, discussions with my family and the coaches, I have decided to make myself available for the NFL draft.

''I want to say thank you to all of you who have been so supportive and encouraging during this difficult time. I will miss the coaches, the academic experience and the wonderful fans. To the fans I want to say, thank you for being a wonderful part of my great experience at the University of Tennessee.''

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