Tennessee junior offensive tackle Antonio Richardson will forgo his final season of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft, according to a Friday statement from UT and the player.
Tennessee junior offensive tackle Tiny Richardson (News Sentinel photo)
"After praying and talking it over with my family and coaches, I believe that now is the right time to make a statement about my future," Richardson said in a statement released by UT sports information. "I have truly loved every moment of being a Tennessee Volunteer and will always be a Vol For Life. As much as I have enjoyed my time at Tennessee, I have long dreamed of playing in the NFL and taking care of my family. After careful consideration, I have decided to forego my senior year and enter the 2014 NFL Draft.
"I am grateful to all of my Tennessee coaches and everyone in the football program who made my life easier, from trainers to tutors to our fans, who are the best in the country. I am ready for the next level and look forward to what I know will be an exciting challenge."
First-year Vols coach Butch Jones also released a statement through UT sports information.
"We appreciate Antonio's efforts and contributions to the University of Tennessee Football," Jones’ statement said. "He will always be a Vol For Life, and we wish him all the best as he looks to further his career in the National Football League."
Richardson, a Nashville native, started 24 of his 36 career games at Tennessee. He was named second-team All-SEC after his sophomore season — his first as a starter — and he was a major part of the offensive line that paved the way for 2,261 rushing yards this season. That was the most any Tennessee team had gained on the ground since 2004.
Tennessee allowed less than 0.7 sacks per game in Richardson’s two seasons as a starter.
Richardson’s decision will leave the Vols with a tough task of replacing their entire first-team offensive line heading into next season. Tennessee’s other four starters — right tackle Ja’Wuan James, right guard Zach Fulton, center James Stone and left guard Alex Bullard — were seniors. All but Bullard are expected to be selected in the upcoming draft, and multiple program sources have told govols247 that Bullard is expected to at least get invited to an NFL training camp after the draft.
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247