UI back ignores the trend

UI back ignores the trend

The early filing deadline for the National Football League draft could have passed without Robert Holcombe even noticing. The University of Illinois junior running back isn't interested.

As he has said all along, Holcombe will return for his senior season. When the entry deadline passes Friday, it will become official.

"I don't think it would be a good decision for me to come out this year," Holcombe said.

Holcombe will be bucking a trend in the Big Ten. On Monday, three juniors announced they would leave league school early. Northwestern running back Darnell Autry and Ohio State offensive lineman Orlando Pace and cornerback Shawn Springs said they will enter April's NFL draft.

Autry's decision didn't surprise Holcombe, who like Autry is from the Phoenix area.

"Every year since he's been there, he's posted up pretty good numbers," Holcombe said. "I'm pretty sure he's put a lot of thought into his decision. I'm pretty sure he made the best decision for himself and his family."

In their junior seasons, Autry outgained Holcombe by 105 yards. But the Illinois back thinks there's much more distance between the two in terms of name recognition.

"He's known nationally," Holcombe said. "Everyone knows who Darnell Autry is. He's been an All-American candidate, Heisman candidate. I can't say the same."

Autry had his prospects evaluated by a draft panel, which told him he would go between the first and fifth rounds.

"Nothing is guaranteed. I feel and I know in my heart I've got the mind to succeed and get through it no matter what," Autry said.

Knowing he wasn't turning pro, Holcombe didn't bother going through the process. Holcombe admits he's a little curious about what the panel might say.

"It would be nice to know so you know what you would have to do (to improve your draft standing)," Holcombe said.

Talk to NFL scouts, and they'll tell you Holcombe can play in the league. But, they also say another year in college will help him.

That extra year will be spent in an offense from the NFL. Ron Turner's experience as Chicago Bears head coach will boost the pro chances for all the Illini, Holcombe said.

"We feel that that's a plus," Holcombe said. "A lot of guys go to college to play football and they dream about playing in the NFL. That's something that almost everyone wants to do. When he brings in his system, they'll have confidence in it because he's been at the pro level."

Holcombe also likes the idea of playing for new UI running backs coach Jim Helms, who sent several players into the NFL while an assistant at Texas A&M.

"He seems like he knows a lot about the position," Holcombe said. "He knows what type of players can actually play at that level."

If he thought he had a chance to go high in this year's draft, Holcombe would have left early.

"I was hoping that I'd be able to make that decision," Holcombe said.

Holcombe watched a former teammate go through the draft anguish in January 1995. Simeon Rice thought about leaving school early before deciding to play his senior season at Illinois.

"Simeon, he was a totally different situation," Holcombe said. "He was projected to be a top-five pick. I don't think he hurt himself by staying. If he would have left, I don't think it would have made any difference."

In last April's draft, Rice was the third pick overall. Another former Illini, Kevin Hardy, went one spot ahead of Rice.

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