Next stop: NFL

Brian Calhoun feels he can be a first-round pick this April

MADISON—Life as a football player has been a whirlwind for Brian Calhoun.

Over the past two months the tailback pondered his future and chose to depart the University of Wisconsin a year early in favor of the NFL.

Just two years ago, Calhoun was contemplating the transfer that eventually brought him to Wisconsin from Colorado.

The whirlwind?

"The last six years has been a whirlwind," said Andrew Calhoun, Brian's father.

It began with a seven-touchdown performance in Brian Calhoun's first game as a junior in Oak Creek (Wis.) High School's wishbone offense.

"Then the mail and everything else started just coming every which way," Andrew Calhoun said. "We're happy. This has been a six-year journey almost."

From that point on everyone knew that Brian Calhoun was a very, very good player. The whirlwind sent the prep All-American to Colorado for two seasons, followed by his subsequent transfer and record-setting campaign at UW.

Next stop: the NFL.

Though Calhoun's intentions have been public since early this week, he formally made his announcement Thursday afternoon, sitting at a dais alongside future UW head coach Bret Bielema in the media room at the Kohl Center here.

Calhoun's eyes welled with tears as he made his opening statement, thanking his UW coaches and teammates for accepting him when he transferred, for helping him succeed this season and for making him a "better player and a better individual." He also thanked his family, friends and Badger fans for their support.

For most of the 14-minute press conference, and through the procession of interviews that followed, however, Calhoun's countenance was defined by his characteristic calm, affable manner. He was clearly at peace with his decision.

Bielema, of course, wanted Calhoun to remain a Badger, but he emphasized the importance of providing Calhoun with unbiased sources of information.

"The bottom line is I think this was the best decision for Brian and his family," Bielema said.

Among the wide array of people Calhoun discussed his options with were his family; UW coaches Bielema, co-offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and outgoing running backs coach Brian White; UCLA running backs coach Eric Bienemy, who coached Calhoun for one season at Colorado; and former Colorado and current Tennessee Titans running back Chris Brown.

The decision was anything but clear cut. Calhoun said he had a good idea he would leave early for the draft after UW's Capital One Bowl win over Auburn. The fact that Joe Thomas tore his anterior cruciate ligament in that game played a role, enforcing Calhoun's trepidation regarding the potential for injury.

"I think that was definitely something that kind of put a nail in the coffin to say, ‘You know what, I think it's time to move on,'" Calhoun said.

However, as late as Wednesday night, Calhoun was still reassessing his options.

"Up last night I was still kind of going back and forth, because maybe it's not the right decision, I should maybe come back," Calhoun said. "Pretty much up until last night I was still on the fence. But I think this is our decision and I'm at peace with it."

Calhoun feels he is ready for the next level and expects to be a first-day draft choice in April. "I wouldn't have even thought about this if I was going to be a second-day guy," he said.

Despite the fact that the 2006 draft is loaded with running backs, Calhoun believes he has an opportunity to earn a first-round selection.

"If I have a good combine outing, who knows? I could be rated right next to Reggie Bush or LenDale White or Laurence Maroney," Calhoun said.

Andrew Calhoun pointed out that as he saw it, 25 NFL running backs were smaller than his son. And of all the running backs eligible for selection this season, only one—Southern California's Reggie Bush—had more rushing and receiving yards than Calhoun, by a mere 2,218-2,207 margin.

No one is going to argue with Calhoun's production. He had perhaps the most prolific offensive season in Wisconsin history, setting a school record with 24 touchdowns.

Calhoun's size and speed, however, have been criticized. Though he was a member of UW's Big Ten champion 400-meter relay team last spring, Calhoun did not break many long runs this season.

"I think the Auburn game kind of put that to rest," Calhoun said. "I think I'm capable of running a low 4.4, high 4.3 (40-yard dash), and I think that would put a lot to rest (about) how fast I am and that I'm fast enough to play at the next level."

Against Auburn in the Capital One Bowl, Calhoun had runs of 60, 33 (touchdown) and 27 yards.

Of greater concern in some draft circles, though, is Calhoun's size. He is listed in UW's media guide at 5-foot-10, 194 pounds. Media guides are notorious for ratcheting up a players' real measurables, but Calhoun said that weight was from last winter. He played this season at or slightly above 200 pounds.

"I weighed 202 this morning," Calhoun said.

Calhoun said he hopes to weigh 205-210 pounds when the NFL Scouting combine rolls around late next month.

Calhoun foresees himself as a third-down back early in his career and expects that, if he gets an opportunity to play in a West Coast offense, he could be a 20-carry-a-game player. Calhoun mentioned Brian Westbrook, Warrick Dunn and Clinton Portis as running backs he could emulate that were of similar stature when they entered the NFL.

"I think I definitely could be somewhere in that same class," Calhoun said.

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