Andre Smith became the second Alabama Crimson Tide player to receive the Outland Award as the nation's top offensive lineman, joining former Tide and current NFL lineman Chris Samuels, who won the award in 1999.
Smith is projected as an early first round selection in the upcoming NFL draft, and now he must make a decision that will affect the rest of his life—and the immediate future of the Alabama offensive line.
Should a player who was the No. 1 offensive line prospect in the country three years ago when he came to Alabama from Birmingham's Huffman High School—and has now justified that ranking by being the best offensive lineman in college in only his junior year—return for a senior season?
Or should Smith take the money and run?
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that he would like to implement a rookie salary cap starting in 2010 that will likely limit the the amount that Smith will make in a rookie contract, should he decide to stay for his senior season in '09.
If Smith gambles and stays for his senior season, he could literally be passing up millions of dollars. On the other hand, if he stays, Smith would likely finish his degree as a four-year starter for the Tide.
He would also have the chance to repeat as the Outland Award winner while spending one more year enjoying the college life.
If he goes, he will give up the chance at a senior season that would include finishing his degree and rounding out the college experience.
He would, however, have a pocket full of NFL money that would certainly allow him to finish his degree at a later date and financially take care of family and friends.
It's a tough choice, one that he will likely take up to the last minute to announce. He will get advice from Nick Saban, NFL scouts and personnel, and his parents. He will also hear from Tide fans who want him to stay one more year.
Whatever he decides to do, he will forever be remembered as one of the top three linemen ever to play at Alabama, along with John Hannah and Samuels.
Next year's Alabama team move on if he goes, and Saban and his staff have already gained a commitment from James Carpenter, a juco player who some are tabbing as Smith's heir apparent. There is also Tyler Love, one of the top tackle prospects in the nation last year who was originally recruited to replace 'Dre.
The 'Bama nation, as well as fans of many NFL teams that need the best lineman in the draft, will wait for Andre to make his final decision. One side will celebrate, while the other will be sad.
No matter what the decision, we all wish him the best.
Here is the best advice I can give you, Andre: Follow your heart. You can't go wrong if you do that.
And good luck, whatever you do!
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