The surprise in Cierre Wood's decision on next season would have been if he'd decided to spend it at Notre Dame. Instead, the running back declared for the NFL draft on Monday.
ESPN first reported the senior running back's decision, which Irish Illustrated confirmed with mother Valerie Wood. Notre Dame announced Wood's decision later in the day.
Wood bypasses a fifth year of eligibility at Notre Dame, where he could have been the starting Irish running back next season.
"Having to make a decision like whether to stay in school or leave to pursue a lifelong dream of playing in the NFL is never simple," Wood said in a prepared statement released by the University. "I had to weigh many factors over the last month, but ultimately it came down to what I felt was the right decision that would most benefit my family. With that in mind, I'm leaving Notre Dame and am entering my name for this year's NFL draft.
"There are so many people I need to thank that have helped get me to this point. My teammates are friends I know I'll have the rest of my life. I'll miss hanging out with them in the locker room and around campus. They are a great group of guys and are poised for success next year.
"I also want to thank all of the coaches, specifically coach (Brian) Kelly and coach (Tony) Alford. Coach Kelly has the program heading in the right direction and I'm happy to know he'll remain our head coach in the future. Coach Alford has been so much more than a coach to me. He's been a mentor and a role model. He's helped turn me into the man I am today.
"Lastly, I want to thank the school, our fans and the extended Notre Dame family. The love and appreciation you've shown me in my four years can never be repaid. I'll always remember the ovation I received as I ran out of the tunnel on senior day and I can't thank you enough."
An NFL scout told Irish Illustrated during the season that Wood projected as a mid-round pick.
Wood's departure means Notre Dame must replace its top two running backs this off-season with Theo Riddick also departing. Riddick finished the season with 190 carries for 917 yards with Wood second at 114 carries for 742 yards. In the season's final two games against USC and Alabama, Wood carried just 12 times for 22 yards.
During the lead up to the BCS National Championship Game, Wood promised he'd announce a draft decision soon after the season finale, with the deadline for NFL draft decisions coming this week. Wood said the ability to be closer to his one-year old daughter Braelyn, currently living in Las Vegas, Nev., with the running back's mother, would be a factor.
Wood said he'd already made up his mind on next season before the bowl game and had received his draft feedback.
"That's for me to know and you to find out," Wood said. "You'll know if I make the decision or not.
"The only person I told really was my daughter. She can't really tell nobody."
Wood's departure opens the door for George Atkinson III to take over as Notre Dame's starting running back, with the spring competition coming from Will Mahone, Amir Carlisle and Cam McDaniel. Mahone and Carlisle both red-shirted this season while McDaniel had carries in just three games: Navy, Miami and Wake Forest.
Five-star running back Greg Bryant and four-star running back Tarean Folston, both Irish verbal commitments, are expected to enroll at Notre Dame next summer.
The production lost from Riddick and Wood represent 67.4 percent of Notre Dame's running yardage last season but less than half the team's rushing touchdowns. Atkinson and Everett Golson combined for 11 rushing touchdowns, with the quarterback leading the team with six.
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