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February 16, 2011

Staying in school nothing new for Broyles, OU

Perhaps Oklahoma wide receiver Ryan Broyles felt he had unfinished business. Maybe he was adhering to the wishes of his parents. He may have felt he was heeding good advice. Or maybe he's just having fun.

Whatever the reason, Broyles opted -- for the second time in two years -- to ignore the siren's call that is the NFL draft and stay in school.

Broyles redshirted as a freshman in 2007. Players can enter the NFL draft three years after their high school class graduates. Therefore, juniors or third-year sophomores can apply for entry into the draft, and Broyles' first opportunity came after the 2009 season, when he had 89 receptions for 1,120 yards and 15 TDs.

He had an even better season in 2010, with a nation-high 131 receptions for 1,622 yards and 14 TDs.

Still, he's back for his senior season.

Broyles' decision to bypass the NFL surprised many. NFL teams like sure-handed receivers with game-breaking potential, a description that definitely fits Broyles. His decision to say in school is one of the major reasons the Sooners are ranked No. 1 in most early projections for the 2011 season.

"We're in offseason right now working on building our strength and team camaraderie," Broyles said last week. "We know it's a process and we're not putting all our eggs in one basket, but we do feel like we have a strong team coming back."

That's putting it mildly. The Sooners return nine offensive and eight defensive starters from a team that went 12-2 and won the Big 12 championship last season. Among the returning starters are quarterback Landry Jones, emerging receiving threat Kenny Stills and star linebacker Travis Lewis, who also opted to stay for his senior season.

But the key returnee is Broyles. He's coming off an amazing season in which he set several OU records. One of the most explosive players in the nation, Broyles has had 44 plays that have gained at least 20 yards in the past two seasons.

Sticking around
Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles surprised many with his decision to remain in school. Here's a look at five other key players who also surprised many by remaining in school.
QB Andrew Luck, Stanford: Had Luck -- who will be a junior this fall -- chosen to enter the NFL draft, he almost certainly would have been the first player selected. Instead, he'll be the favorite to win the Heisman, and his presence makes the Cardinal a national championship contender. He earned All-America recognition while throwing for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns, with eight interceptions, last season. He's a strong runner, too.

WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State: Blackmon -- who also will be a junior this fall -- led the nation in receiving yards per game (148.5) and touchdown receptions (20). He's drawn comparisons to former Texas Tech star Michael Crabtree, who was the 10th selection in the 2009 NFL draft. Blackmon's presence means Oklahoma State again will be a contender for the Big 12 championship.

WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame: The Irish are trying to climb back to national prominence, and Floyd's decision to stay for his senior season certainly will aid in that quest. The Irish's best offensive player, Floyd had 79 catches and 12 touchdowns last season despite missing a game. He provides a proven big-play threat to an offense that needs one.

RB LaMichael James, Oregon: A Heisman finalist, James was a major reason the Ducks reached the BCS championship game. He's capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. Last season, James -- who will be a junior this fall -- had eight runs that covered at least 40 yards.

CB Janoris Jenkins, Florida: Every team can use a shutdown corner, especially one that has some big questions on offense. Plus, Jenkins' return is important for a secondary that finished 12th nationally in pass defense but is replacing both starting safeties. Jenkins, who is heading into his fourth season as a starter, had three picks, eight pass breakups and 44 tackles last season, and he has eight interceptions and 25 breakups in his career.

There's no question he returned for a run at the national title. He was on the roster the last time the Sooners had a shot at the national title. That was in 2008, when he was a redshirt freshman and OU fell to Florida 24-14 in the national championship game. Broyles had four catches for 26 yards in that game.

"Everyone wants a championship," Broyles said. "I was so young at the time, I took [playing in the national championship game] for granted. If we had won that game, there's no telling what I would do now. But I'm looking forward to the opportunity to play for it again.

"I took it for granted, and now thinking about it and getting so close, you just want the same sense of satisfaction again. Basically, that's what you play for."

Broyles said many other factors went into his decision to stay at OU. He's from Norman, so he's already at home with friends and family. In addition, his parents, Edward and Stephanie, who both work in the food service industry, have encouraged him to finish his degree. Ryan is the first in his family to go to college and on track to earn a degree in human relations in December.

"School is important," he said. "That's one thing my parents always preached to me. From grade school on, they were all about the grades. They pushed that to me and my siblings.

"[My parents] were up for anything, but I'm a level-headed person and they know that."

Still, it takes a high degree of level-headedness to postpone the seven-figure contracts that the NFL provides -- the type of money that could put his parents on the receiving end of the food service business.

Usually, college football underclassmen with NFL ability jump to the draft like buzzards on road kill. This year, a record 56 underclassmen declared for early entry.

Oklahoma players frequently resist early entry, though. Sure, running back Adrian Peterson left after his junior year for the 2007 draft and wide receiver Malcolm Kelly entered in '08, but many Sooners stars have passed. They've heeded the words of coach Bob Stoops, who advises them to "maximize their window of opportunity" and not to play for a discount.

"You're done playing at 26 or 27. You don't have a degree," Stoops told the Daily Oklahoman newspaper last year. "You're going to take care of your mom? You're not taking care of anybody."

Stoops' message is directed to players who are likely to be taken in the second round or lower. But eventual first-round selections have listened, too.

Just in the past two years, quarterback Sam Bradford, tight end Jermaine Gresham, offensive tackle Trent Williams, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Jeremy Beal could have entered the draft at least a year before they did.

"Coach Stoops always preaches that the longer you stay, the more money you get," Broyles said. "That shows in the statistics. And you get to finish up your degree. I don't feel like anybody wants to leave."

Statistics can be skewed, but there's little doubt staying at OU another year or two hasn't hurt earning potential. Bradford was the No. 1 selection in the 2010 draft. McCoy, Williams and Gresham were 2010 first-round picks, too.

Still, when you stay in school, there always is the risk of injury. Bradford and Gresham were injured in 2009 and sat out all or most of the season as OU slogged its way to an 8-5 finish. Obviously, their pro careers were not affected, but what if their injuries had been more severe?

Broyles' answer is that anybody who plays football understands it's a contact sport. You can't play scared. Besides, some would say the threat of injury is a reason to return to school rather than leave. Former Oklahoma receiver Mark Clayton, the first-round selection of the Baltimore Ravens in the '04 NFL draft, told Broyles as much.

"Mark Clayton has been a mentor to me," Broyles said. "He told me I need to get my degree. You're only going to play football so long. You need a career after that. He said, 'Four or five years is probably all you're going to be in the league, so what are you going to do the other 60 years of your life?'

"The NFL is going to be there. I'm going to enjoy college life now and be set up afterward."

After winning a national championship, he hopes.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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