The early departures of LSU football players to the NFL accelerated Friday as consensus All-America safety Eric Reid and three of his teammates announced the end of their careers as Tigers.
Two other juniors — running back Spencer Ware and cornerback Tharold Simon — and one redshirt sophomore — punter Brad Wing — joined Reid in forgoing their remaining eligibility to enter the April NFL draft.
Those announcements came a day after middle linebacker Kevin Minter, the team’s Most Valuable Player this season, announced he would leave a year early.
None of the early departures came as much of a surprise, and more early departures are likely before the Jan. 15 deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft.
Other LSU underclassmen who are likely considering an early entrance into the NFL draft are defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, defensive tackle Bennie Logan and running back Michael Ford.
Reid was third on the team this season with 91 tackles. He had seven pass breakups, two interceptions, one tackle for loss and one fumble recovery.
“I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to have been able to play football at LSU,” Reid said in a statement released by LSU. “It was always my dream to go to LSU and play football.
“I want to thank coach (Les) Miles and all of the people that played a role to get me to this point in my life. This was a very difficult decision because I always wanted to be a Tiger and I love LSU. But, after careful consideration and talking with my family, I feel like this is the right time to make this decision. I will always be an LSU Tiger.”
Reid was named first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America and the American Football Coaches Association. He was also a first-team All-Southeastern Conference pick from both the media and the SEC coaches.
For his career, Reid had 194 career tackles, 41/2 tackles for loss, and six interceptions. He was one of five permanent team captains for LSU this season.
Reid’s departure means Ronald Martin of White Castle likely will move into the starting free safety position as a junior next season. Martin played in all 13 games this season, starting one. He had one tackle for loss and made two interceptions, both against Idaho, returning one 45 yards for a touchdown.
According to the statement, Reid said he is two semesters shy of graduating and he will continue to pursue his degree during the offseason.
The departure of Simon figures to be more easily absorbed than Reid’s, as two freshmen played key roles at cornerback this season, though Simon led the team with four interceptions.
True freshman Jalen Mills moved into the starting lineup when Tyrann Mathieu was kicked off the team early in preseason camp.
Mills started all 13 games, and redshirt freshman Jalen Collins earned first-team all-freshman honors from the SEC as LSU’s third cornerback.
Simon was a two-year starter and had 96 tackles, 21/2 tackles for loss, 22 pass breakups and seven interceptions. He said in a statement released by LSU that he was leaving the Tigers with “mixed emotions and serious consideration.”
As for Ware, it’s unlikely he could have improved his draft stock had he returned next season. He has been part of one of the most talent-rich positions on the team in his career and would have shared the position with Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard and possibly Ford had he returned.
Ware was fourth on the team with 367 rushing yards this season. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry and ran for one touchdown.
His versatility as a receiver and a blocker figures to be attractive to NFL teams.
Ware said in a statement released by his agent that he came to his decision “after much consideration and evaluation with my family.”
Ware, a native of Cincinnati, said he has made lifelong friends at LSU and that he was grateful for the opportunity to attend the university.
“I will forever wear purple and gold as a badge of honor,” Ware said, “and I wish continued prosperity and success to the Tiger Nation.”
Ware, who played quarterback in high school, accomplished the rare feat of scoring touchdowns as a rusher, receiver and passer during his career. He finished with 1,249 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and caught 39 passes for 404 yards and two touchdowns. He threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Rueben Randle against Auburn in 2010.
Wing’s departure had been anticipated since he was suspended last month for the Chick-fil-A Bowl for violating a team rule, which was reportedly because of multiple failed drug tests.
In two years, he punted 118 times for a 44.6 average, which is the highest average in school history for a player with at least 100 punts.
Freshman Jamie Keehn, whom Wing helped recruit from their native Australia, was effective in the bowl game against Clemson on Monday. He punted nine times for an average of 44.6 yards, hitting five for 50-plus yards and placing two inside the 20.
After LSU announced his departure, Wing tweeted: “Can’t express enough love for Tiger Nation. Thank you for making these 3 years so amazing. Love to the fans, my teammates and coaches.”
Strong TV ratings for bowl
The Chick-fil-A Bowl between LSU and Clemson may have had trouble putting fans in the stands, but it had no trouble drawing the eyes of college football fans to their TVs.
LSU’s dramatic 25-24 loss to Clemson on Monday night resulted in a 5.6 rating on ESPN and an average of 8.6 million viewers, making it the most-watched non-BCS bowl game ever on the network.
The old record for Chick-fil-A Bowl viewership was 7.52 million viewers for the 2007 game between Auburn and Clemson.
Certainly, though, some of that record TV audience was comprised of LSU and Clemson fans who stayed home.
Attendance for the game was listed at 68,027 at the Georgia Dome, which seats just under 72,000, but the stands appeared to be only about two-thirds full. LSU returned about 5,500 of its allotment of 16,000 tickets, while Clemson returned nearly 9,000 of its 18,000 tickets.
Advocate sportswriter Scott Rabalais contributed to this report.