Patrick Queen sat next to his head coach, the morning after winning the national championship, and was asked whether he was going to return for his senior year.
The LSU linebacker demurred — "I'm not really sure yet" — and said he had to go home and talk with his parents, LSU coach Ed Orgeron, and "do everything the right way."
Orgeron looked across the table at his starting inside linebacker, then told reporters his player had "a decision to make."
"I don't know what it's going to be," Orgeron said. "But I'm going to try to. Right after this, I'm kind of hitting him on the knee right now to stay. But I've got to recruit these guys."
Queen has decided not to stay.
The 6-foot-1, 227-pound junior and Ventress native became the second underclassman to declare early for the NFL draft, joining safety Grant Delpit. The declaration deadline is Monday.
Queen posted his decision on social media Wednesday, saying "I am officially announcing my decision to enter the NFL drat this spring."
Although Delpit's decision was expected, Queen was one of the borderline defenders Orgeron thought he might have a chance to retain.
Among most NFL projections, Queen is considered a Day 2 prospect, but his athleticism will lend him the chance to better his stock in events such as pro day and the NFL combine.
So begins a reconstruction project on defense for Orgeron and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, and it would get more tricky if the other starting inside linebacker, junior Jacob Phillips, also declares to leave early for the NFL.
Sophomore Damone Clark is most likely the leading candidate to replace Queen. The Baton Rouge native played in all 15 games, and he finished sixth on the team with 50 tackles, adding four tackles for loss and 3½ sacks.
Queen was a versatile defender. As a sophomore in 2018, he backed up his mentor, Butkus Award winning linebacker Devin White, and Queen broke into the starting lineup as an outside linebacker in the final three games of the season.
When White left early for the NFL, Queen entered a position battle with Phillips and linebacker Michael Divinity for the two spots. Divinity started the first three games of the 2019 season, and Queen was mostly used as a pass rusher in Aranda's blitz packages.
Queen then emerged as a consistent inside linebacker and started against Vanderbilt in Week 4. Divinity was shifted to outside linebacker, and Queen started the rest of the season.
Queen finished the 2019 season third on the team with 85 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss, three sacks and an interception.
In LSU's final four games of the season, Queen had seven tackles for loss and 2½ sacks. He finished his career in the national championship game with eight tackles, 2½ tackles for loss and a half-sack.
"My time at LSU has given me an unbreakable bond with incredible people," Queen said. "The opportunity to wear the purple and gold was a childhood dream."