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Ridley chooses to forgo senior season at LSU, enters NFL draft

NATCHEZ — If there’s one thing Stevan Ridley learned in recent weeks, it’s that you’re not guaranteed tomorrow.

The LSU running back and former Trinity Episcopal standout, dealt with the possibility of missing the 2011 Cotton Bowl after initially being ruled academically ineligible for the game by the NCAA.

Ridley was eventually cleared to play, but the lesson of no guarantees was learned, he said. And because of that, Ridley announced Thursday he will enter the 2011 NFL draft, forgoing his senior season at LSU to pursue his dream of playing professional football.

“To be honest, this has really been hard,” Ridley said Thursday afternoon. “Part of me feels like I’m leaving my teammates, my brothers behind. But this is an opportunity you dream about as a kid, and now that it’s been presented, you can’t turn it away in hopes of elevating your stock.

“You’re not guaranteed tomorrow. You have to take what you can and do the most with it.”

According to an Associated Press report Thursday evening, LSU spokesman Michael Bonnette said LSU head coach Les Miles and running backs coach Frank Wilson are both hoping to meet with Ridley and his mother in Natchez to find out if he can be convinced to return for his senior season. Ridley could not be reached for comment about that potential meeting Thursday evening.

Ridley accumulated 1,147 yards and 15 touchdowns this past season for the Tigers, including 100 yards rushing and a touchdown against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. He was named to the AP’s All-SEC second-team squad.

Ridley said he’s entering the draft despite worries about a potential worker’s strike in the NFL that may affect the league’s 2011-2012 season.

“It factored in a lot, until I thought about it,” Ridley said. “The (potential) lockout’s fine, because I’ll still be at work. Whether I’m in Natchez or Baton Rogue, I’ll still be training.

“I won’t be the only person in the process. I just have to keep doing what I’ve been doing, working and grinding it out. The rest will fall into place.”

Ridley said his decision wasn’t made suddenly, but he’s been thinking about declaring for a few months. A strong support group, including his family, has helped him through the process, he said. A lot of prayer went into the decision too.

“My mom is really one of the strongest Christian women I know,” Ridley said. “She’s been the backbone of my career.

“Anytime you have struggles, you have to get on your knees and pray. We’ve put a lot of thought into this, and God’s had me all the way to this point. It’s a gamble, but I feel like it’s the best choice for me at this point in time.”

Looking back on his career at LSU, Ridley said he’s come a long way from arriving in Baton Rouge as a freshman.

“You have to work your way up,” Ridley said. “It’s hard to step in and play immediately (at this level). Playing in the SEC, has been a great experience.

“It’s the most dominant conference, and coming to a school that’s been on top, I knew I’d be competing against the best of the best. The whole experience has been a blessing, and I just thank God for my God-given talents and for continuing to open doors.”

Even though he had to deal with the NCAA potentially declaring him academically ineligible, Ridley said the threat of that creeping back up next fall didn’t factor into his decision at all.

“With that whole deal, it’s a done deal,” Ridley said. “I was innocent, and I kept my innocence. There was nothing they could do that could (keep me from) coming back. I was worried at first, but once you’re innocent, you’re innocent.”

Ridley said he is grateful for his Natchez fan base supporting him throughout his college career.

“Natchez has been behind me 100 percent,” he said. “My goal was to put Natchez and Trinity on the map, and I appreciate them all.”

The NFL draft takes place April 28-30.

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