Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus declared he is leaving the Illini program a year early.
"After a lot of prayer and discussion with my family, I have decided the time is right for me to forgo my senior year and enter the 2012 NFL draft," Mercilus said in a statement.
Mercilus is the No. 3-rated defensive end prospect for the 2012 draft by NFLDraftScout.com, and the No. 35-rated overall prospect.
The 6-foot-3, 262-pound Mercilus tied Simeon Rice's school record with 16 sacks in 2011 while setting a Big Ten record with nine forced fumbles - the second-highest single-season total in NCAA history. He also racked up a conference-best 22.5 tackles for loss while earning first-team All-America honors. Mercilus also won the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award.
Mercilus entered the season with just two career sacks, but his departure after a monster season didn't come as a surprise following the firing of Ron Zook and with defensive coordinator and interim head coach Vic Koenning declining an offer to stay on as coordinator.
"I’m very proud of Whitney for the amount of work he put in to be in this position," defensive line coach Keith Gilmore said in a statement. "He really matured during the season and became a terrific leader not only for the defensive line, but for the entire defense."
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