Despite only one division title to show for it, the South Carolina football program is arguably enjoying its most successful run ever.
The Gamecocks took home its first ever SEC East title in 2010, following it up with back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time in program history.
For that run to continue in 2013, the Gamecocks are going to have to find a replacement for one of its most dynamic pieces.
Wide receiver Ace Sanders—who led the Gamecocks with 45 receptions and nine touchdowns last season—has decided to leave early and enter the NFL draft, according to former teammate Stephon Gilmore (via the Charleston Post and Courier).
The university hasn't officially announced Sanders' decision; and as the Post and Courier points out, Sanders could withdraw his name between now and Friday provided he doesn't sign with an agent.
However, Sanders did thank South Carolina on his Twitter account.
It's a good move for Sanders.
The 5'8", 175-pounder doesn't have the size to be a No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL. However, he excelled down the stretch for the Gamecocks, catching 15 passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns in South Carolina's final two games of the season—both against ranked competition.
He's good enough to make an impact at wide receiver, but he will make a more immediate impact on special teams as a punt returner.
Sanders earned first-team All-SEC honors in 2012 as a return specialist. He returned 28 punts for 429 yards and two touchdowns in 2012, showing some electric moves in the process.
Did Ace Sanders make the right call going pro?
His size will likely prevent him from being a first-round pick, but he's not going to grow four inches if he stays in Columbia. His speed and quickness will wow scouts at the NFL combine and at his pro day, especially now that spread offenses are creeping into the NFL.
Could he have improved upon his draft stock next season? Sure.
Nevertheless, teams will recognize what he can bring immediately on special teams, and see his potential in specific new-look offenses in the NFL.
There's nothing wrong with learning on the job, even with fourth or fifth-round NFL money.
College football will miss Ace Sanders. His ability to make something out of nothing was fun to watch, but you can't fault a guy for moving on with his career and striking while the iron is hot.