One of the greatest players in University of Kentucky football history is moving on.
Randall Cobb announced Thursday that he will bypass his senior season at UK and enter the 2011 NFL Draft. Cobb said he spent two hours praying over his decision Sunday night.
"I've had this dream since I was a child," Cobb said. "I remember laying in bed, and the only thing I wanted was to play football in the NFL. As hard as this is for me, I feel that I am mentally and physically ready for the next level."
Reading from a prepared statement, Cobb got emotional as he talked about how he was shunned as a major college prospect following his junior year at Alcoa (Tenn.) High School. Kentucky stepped in and was the first school to offer Cobb a scholarship, and after Cobb spurned a late pitch from his home-state school, the University of Tennessee, he arrived in Lexington in 2008.
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What followed was a three-year Wildcats career that saw him excel as a receiver, quarterback, and punt and kickoff returner. Cobb was named a first-team All-American in 2010 as an all-purpose player by The Associated Press, ESPN.com and SportsIllustrated.com, and was a consensus first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection. As a junior this season, Cobb broke the SEC single-season record for all-purpose yardage with 2,396 and led the SEC in receptions per game by catching 84 passes for 1,017 yards and seven touchdowns.
Cobb leaves UK as the all-time leader in touchdowns (37), ranks fourth in career all-purpose yardage (4,674), fourth in career scoring (226 points), fifth in career pass receptions (144) and sixth in career receiving yardage (1,661).
"He's had a huge impact on our program,' UK Coach Joker Phillips said.
"First and foremost, we're so happy for Randall to be able to fulfill one of his dreams and play in the NFL. You come to college for two things: to get an education, and to put yourself in position to play professionally, and Randall has a chance to do it a year early."
Cobb said an evaluation of his draft status that he requested from the NFL Draft Advisory Board in December identified him as a third-round prospect, and NFL Draft analysts Jerry Jones and Todd McShay both said last week that Cobb could go as high as the second round.
Cobb said he envisions himself as a Wes Welker-type of player at the next level, a receiver like the New England Patriots star capable of excelling in the slot as well as a kick and punt returner. He said he'll work on his route-running and getting in and out of breaks leading up to the draft.
Cobb admitted that it was tough leaving his UK teammates behind.
"Every time I waited (on his decision) it was the team I was putting first," Cobb said. "I had to get to a point I had to block all that stuff and see what was my best option."
Cobb also gave some consideration to the possibility of an NFL lockout in 2011.
"It could hurt me," Cobb said. "I'm just stepping out on my faith and hoping everything turns out all right."
The current NFL labor deal expires in early March, and the players' union is convinced the owners are planning to lock them out. Even if that happens, April's draft will go on as scheduled, although rookies wouldn't be able to sign contracts until a new collective bargaining agreement is in place.
While the 5-foot-11, 186-pound Cobb had a lot of individual success during his UK career, the team didn't quite reach the heights he had hoped. The Wildcats did go to three bowl games but never beat Tennessee or threatened in the SEC East race.
But Cobb is confident the program will get those things done eventually.
"That's something I really wanted to do, and I still think that's going to happen," Cobb said. "I had a vision when I came here of all those things happening. Me and Coach Phillips had that vision, and he's going to keep it going. One thing with players, we pass through the program, and it's going to be guys coming through that keep that tradition going.
"And I know Coach Phillips is going to continue to recruit kids that have passion to play the game and make moves like that."
Cobb will now begin the process of choosing an agent and getting ready for UK's Pro Day and the NFL Combine in the spring. He said he eventually intends to finish his degree in community communications and leadership development.
"That'll be the first thing I'll do whenever I get a chance," Cobb said. "I want to set money aside so I'll have a chance to finish my degree. I will get my degree. That's the one thing I promised my mom and my grandmother."
No news yet on Trevathan
Phillips said he is still waiting to meet with junior linebacker Danny Trevathan, who is also considering an early jump to the NFL.
Phillips said Trevathan got stuck in Florida because of bad weather but returned late Wednesday night and that the two would meet and discuss his future sometime Thursday or Friday.
The deadline for underclassmen to declare their intentions is Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.