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Stewart leaving Oregon for NFL

EUGENE — University of Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart has announced that he will pass up his final year of collegiate eligibility in order to enter the National Football League draft.

The 5-11, 230-pound Lacey, Wash., standout completed his junior season seventh in the country in rushing (132.5 avg.) and set the Ducks' single-season school record with 1,722 yards. In the process, he established the Sun Bowl's all-time mark with 253 yards on the ground in a 56-21 win over South Florida, as well as ran for 251 yards earlier this year at Washington — totals that rank second and third, respectively, on the school's single-game rushing chart.

"To be honest with you, it came down to my faith," Stewart said about his decision. "Going to the NFL draft, you're going to have to go ... it's a crapshoot, nothing is set in stone. I based my decision on things that are like prediction and had to lean on something like faith to make my decision. That's where I went."

The first-team AFCA All-American and unanimous first-team Pacific-10 Conference all-league selection established Oregon single-season school records with 2,481 all-purpose yards and nine 100-yard rushing efforts, and set a career rushing standard with 14 games over the century mark.

"We appreciate Jonathan's contributions over the past three years although we wish it could have lasted one-year longer," Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti said. "But I fully support his decision and believe he will be a first-round draft choice and represent the University of Oregon with the class and character he has demonstrated here.

"I know this wasn't an easy decision for him but he feels in his heart that this is what he wants. I assured him that we would support whatever conclusion he came to."

Stewart becomes the sixth Oregon player to leave school early to enter the NFL draft, and the second running back. He joins defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (2005), defensive tackle Igor Olshansky (2004), tight end George Wrighster (2003), running back Onterrio Smith (2003) and defensive back Kenny Wheaton (1997).

"I want to thank the University of Oregon for the opportunity they gave me," Stewart said. "This has been a tremendous experience for me and one I have never regretted."

"Up until the beginning of this week, that's the only time I've really been able to sit down and actually think about what I wanted to do," he said.

Steward added he'd "found peace with my decision."

Oregon finished the 2007 season with a 9-4 record and ranked 23rd in the country in the final Associated Press poll.