As the college football season winds down, the "will he, won't he" gossip surrounding the junior NFL draft prospect begins to swirl. Already in the case of Notre Dame junior defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, the conversation has teetered in both directions.
On Wednesday, Tuitt told Matthew DeFranks of The Observer, Notre Dame's student publication, that he will be returning to South Bend for his senior season:
Irish junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt said he will return for his senior season next year, he told The Observer on Wednesday.
“I’m coming back next year,” Tuitt said. “I’m a junior. I still have one year.”
When asked again if he was returning next year, Tuitt responded, “Yes.”
Shortly after the report from DeFranks, Tuitt hopped on Twitter and sent out a vague but potentially significant message (h/t CollegeSpun). Though he has since deleted it, the tweet read, "Can’t Believe everything you read. Goodnight."
Several ND beat writers retweeted Tuitt's mysterious message:
Of course, just because Tuitt told a reporter that he'll be returning doesn't mean he is contractually bound to come back for his senior campaign. He still has until mid-January to finalize his decision and submit papers for the NFL draft.
Tuitt's mom, Tamara Tuitt-Bartlett also made a public comment on his draft status Thursday morning. Tuitt-Bartlett told Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune that no decision has been made one way or another, but stressed the importance of her son obtaining his degree.
"Stephon has not decided what he is going to do," Tuitt-Bartlett wrote to the Tribune. "What he meant to say was that school is the focal point and he will get his degree from ND."
Hamilton also added a bit of backstory. In August, Tuitt-Bartlett told the Tribune that they will consider entering the draft if he has another strong season, though his degree will remain a priority:
If he comes out, he definitely will have to get his degree. I don't care how he does it, but it definitely has to happen. I wouldn't want an opportunity to pass him by, but getting your degree is very, very important.
The NFL is going to be there. If he has a good season, we'll look into that. There's no definite. It's not a definite.
Midway through his junior year, Tuitt is already one of the best pass-rushers in Fighting Irish history. The Monroe, Ga. native amassed 47 tackles, 12 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2012. He ranks No. 2 in ND history in two categories, with 12 sacks and 77 fumble return yards in a single season.
So far this season, the preseason All-American has 18 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, three sacks, seven hurries, a forced fumble and an interception off Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, which he caught in the end zone for a touchdown during ND's September 7 loss to the Wolverines.
Tuitt is projected by many to be taken somewhere in the middle of the first round of the 2014 draft if he does decide to leave early.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller recently called for Tuitt to be taken 20th by the Dallas Cowboys.
With a promising future and a cloudy present surrounding his draft status, the saga surrounding Tuitt likely isn't over.