Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood celebrates with fans after running for 163 yards against Texas Tech at Milan Puskar Stadium.

 

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Big 12 rushing champion Wendell Smallwood, riding the momentum from the fourth 1,500-yard season in West Virginia history, reversed course Wednesday night and announced he would enter the NFL draft.

On Nov. 23, with the Mountaineers still two games from the regular-season finish line, Smallwood told MetroNews, “I know I’m going to be here for next season with these guys.”

After more contemplation, and armed with a favorable NFL Draft Advisory Panel grade, the 21-year-old Smallwood said the time was right to make the jump.

Smallwood’s final college carry late Saturday night—a 24-yard outside zone run to convert a third-and-22 against Arizona State in the Cactus Bowl—set up the go-ahead touchdown in a 43-42 win.

His single-season total of 1,519 rushing yards ranked fourth among West Virginia running backs behind Steve Slaton (1,744 yards in 2006), Avon Cobourne (1,710 yards in 2002), and Amos Zereoue (1,589 in 1997). He outgained Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington by 27 yards to claim the Big 12 crown.

During his three-year career, Smallwood ran for 2,462 yards and 12 touchdowns, while averaging 5.8 per carry, and caught 68 passes for another 618 yards. Coaches frequently labeled him the best slot receiver on the roster, though his run-game production led to fewer receiving opportunities this past season.

As important as that versatility, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen noted Smallwood’s attention to presnap details and insistence on playing fact-checker in the huddle.

“Our quarterbacks don’t have any problem communicating. They do a great job with signals, never miss a call, and Wendell says, ‘That’s because I keep correcting them.’ He’s a smart, smart, smart kid,” Holgorsen said.

“All the guys in the huddle are looking at Skyler (Howard) except Wendell, and he’s looking at me. So I asked him what’s he doing. And he said ‘I’m watching your signals to make sure we get the call right.’”

Smallwood fumbled only twice in 264 touches this season.

The complete content of Smallwood’s draft announcement on Twitter:

Dear Mountaineer Nation,

After serious consideration and much discussion with my family and coaches, I have decided to declare myself for the 2016 NFL Draft. All my life I’ve dreamed of competing on Sunday’s and I believe the time is now to pursue that dream. There are no words for what the past three years at West Virginia University have meant to me, not only in my development as a football player but more importantly as a man.

I want to thank Coach Holgorsen for always believing in me, both on and off the field. You have been a great mentor to me and always had my back when other didn’t, and I truly thank you for that. I want to also thank Coach Seider and his family for treating me like a family member. I will never forget everything you have done for me while at West Virginia University. I want to personally thank my teammates for all the memories, and lifelong friendships we created together. I will truly miss you all.

Lastly, I want to thank the Mountaineer Nation for taking a kid from little old Wilmington, Delaware and making me one of your own. I can’t think you enough for your passion for the game that I fed off of every Saturday and ultimately becoming “Big 12 Rusher of 2015,” you truly are the BEST FANS IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL.

I look forward to representing West Virginia University in the NFL and again, Thank you.

Let’s Go Mountaineers,

Wendell Smallwood #4

West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley announced Sunday he was forgoing his final year of eligibility. The deadline for underclassmen to enter the NFL draft is Jan. 18, though neither of West Virginia’s other two early-entry candidates, running back Rushel Shell and center Tyler Orlosky, are expected to turn pro.

The list of running backs skipping their senior seasons includes Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, Indiana’s Jordan Howard, Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise, Florida’s Kelvin Taylor, Washington’s Dwayne Washington and Arkansas’ Jonathan Williams. Heisman winner Derrick Henry is expected to announce his departure after Alabama faces Clemson in the national championship game.

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