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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
North Carolina wide receiver Hakeem Nicks said he would know "in his spirit" after his performance in the Meineke Car Care Bowl whether or not he should go to the NFL.
After what he deemed to be his "best college game," and a lot of prayer, Nicks said the decision was made for him. Nicks announced on Monday his decision to forgo his final season of eligibility and enter the NFL draft.
Nicks said he was projected before the bowl game by the NFL draft advisory board to be an early second-round pick. Nicks said as long as he was forecasted as high as the second round, he would leave.
"I thought about it a lot," he said. "It was just something that I had to pray about. I had to look at this situation as in what's better for me. I love being at Carolina. Carolina is always a home for me. ... I feel like I made a great decision."
Nicks wowed NFL scouts with his record-setting season that was highlighted by a behind-the-back catch in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. In his final performance, Nicks caught eight passes for a UNC-bowl record 217 yards and three touchdowns in the Tar Heels' 31-30 loss to West Virginia.
Nicks, who moved into the spotlight in place of injured record-setter Brandon Tate, set UNC single-season records in 2008 for receiving yards (1,222) and touchdowns (12). He finished his career having set 14 school records.
"I clearly think that most everybody feels pretty confident he's probably going to have a great chance to be a first-day draft selection," said UNC coach Butch Davis, who spent 10 years in the NFL with Dallas and Cleveland, and reached out to general managers and assistants on Nicks' behalf. "There's no way you could ever pin anything down because you don't know how many juniors are going to come out, you don't know how many guys are going to work out poorly in the spring time. Guys can move up and down the board. That's why they call the draft an inexact science."
Nicks said he is on track to graduate, but plans to take the semester off to train for the winter combine.
Davis said this will be an important spring for the competition at wide receiver, as he also lost Brandon Tate, Brooks Foster and Cooter Arnold. The mass exodus, though, was something Davis said the staff has prepared for.
"Not only because of Hakeem, but because of the number of seniors that we had at that position anyhow, made that position a very important position and a target during our recruiting efforts," Davis said. "We as a staff talked about that more than eight or nine months ago. Last spring, we made that one of the areas we'd make sure we'd try to do as much investigation and evaluation as possible."
While the loss of Nicks will hurt UNC's depth at the wide receiver position, it is a positive sign for the direction the program is headed. Davis said the number of NFL scouts was "dramatically higher than it had been in 2007" and he hopes sending players to the NFL is a trend that will continue in the future.
"A true indication of your program is when you start having a significant number of guys make it on NFL rosters," said Davis. "Not all of them are going to get drafted, not all of them are going to be first-day selections. But the hallmark of your program is when you get guys drafted, you get some guys signed as free agents ... and you're starting to build that kind of consistency and that kind of talent level."