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Whitney Mercilus Will Enter 2012 NFL Draft, Illinois Junior DE Makes Official Decision

Whitney Mercilus, junior defensive end for the Illinois Fighting Illini, officially announced that he will forgo his senior season and enter the 2012 NFL Draft.

Whitney Mercilus, junior defensive end for the Illinois Fighting Illini, officially announced that he will forgo his senior season and enter the 2012 NFL Draft. Mercilus is a top NFL prospect who won multiple awards and honors in the 2011 season -- including First-Team All-American honors (AP, FWAA, Walter Camp, AFCA, CBSSports.com, ESPN.com, Phil Steele, SI.com, Yahoo.com), the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year award, the Bill Willis Defensive Lineman of the Year Award, All Big Ten honors from the AP and Coaches, a Bronko Nagurski Trophy Finalist
, a Bednarik Award and Rotary Lombardi Award Semifinalist, and SB Nation's 2011 Football All-America team -- so there isn't much more he could accomplish at the amateur ranks.

Mercilus, a redshirt junior DE who led the Illini and the nation with 14.5 sacks and 9 forced fumbles in 2011, released this statement regarding his decision to enter the 2012 NFL Draft:

First, I want to congratulate my teammates and coaches for a great win against UCLA in the Fight Hunger Bowl - it was a great feeling to get back to winning, especially with a defensive performance like we had. With that said, after a lot of prayer and discussion with my family, I have decided the time is right for me to forgo my senior year and enter the 2012 NFL Draft. I want to thank Coach Zook, Coach Koenning, Coach Gilmore and the entire Illini staff for helping me get to this point. To the entire Illinois community - students, professors, athletic department and fans - thank you for all of your support during my time here in Champaign; these have been some of the best times of my life and I will never forget all that this university means to me. Finally, thank you to my teammates - without you guys, I would not be in the position to make this decision. I have faith that Illinois will rise to the top and I will be there to support you.

For more, keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago and SB Nation's NCAA football page. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange, SB Nation's Illinois Fighting Illini blog.

Can't get enough of Whitney Mercilus? Check out Mocking the Draft's analysis on the soon-to-be-NFL defensive end.