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Maddox Goes Pro, Leaves UCLA Behind : Football: He gives up last two years of eligibility to enter NFL draft. LaChapelle makes last-minute decision to stay.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

UCLA quarterback Tommy Maddox announced at a news conference Friday at UCLA that he will make himself available for this year’s NFL draft, giving up his last two years of college eligibility.

At the same news conference, wide receiver Sean LaChapelle announced that, after learning of Maddox’s decision at about 2 a.m. Friday, he had also decided to make himself available for the draft, had told his disapproving parents of his decision, and then changed his mind about 15 minutes before the start of the news conference.

He will be back.

But he will be playing with an inexperienced quarterback.

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“While I fully understand that another year or two at UCLA would be enjoyable and beneficial to my development,” said Maddox, reading from a prepared statement, “I feel that it is time for me to stand on my feet as a man and take on the opportunities offered by the NFL. . . .

“I’m getting married in March (to high school sweetheart Jennifer O’Dell) and feel that it is time to move on to the next important step of my life. Playing in the NFL has been a dream of mine since childhood, and it’s a gut feeling that the time is now right.”

Maddox’s father, Wayne, said that he had spoken with several agents and representatives of virtually every team in the NFL during the last month, trying to determine the league’s interest in his son.

Opinions varied greatly, he said, with teams telling him that his son could be drafted as early as the middle of the first round during the April 26-27 selection process, or as late as the ninth round.

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“I’m not sitting up here right now knowing where I’m going to go in the draft, but I’ve got a couple of months to work hard and work out for some teams and see what happens on draft day,” Maddox said. “I could have taken the easy way out and gone back to UCLA, but I just felt the time was right.”

One prominent sports agent told Times sportswriter Mal Florence this week that he had told Maddox that the quarterback would probably be a late first-round pick if he made himself available for the draft this year, and an early first-round pick if he waited until after next season.

A former UCLA teammate of Maddox said that the quarterback found the former scenario more appealing because, if drafted late in the first round, he would be taken by a better team, wouldn’t be under pressure to turn the franchise around and would be given more time to develop his skills.

Maddox said that he would be happy to play for any team, but added: “If you get drafted by a better team or one that’s on top right now, obviously that makes you feel better. If I get drafted by a team that maybe is on top right now, I’ll feel very good about that.”

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Is he ready for the NFL?

“I wouldn’t say right now that I’m ready for the NFL, as far as playing,” Maddox said. “I think I’m ready to get into it and start to learn the system and mature as an NFL quarterback. . . .

“There are always teams out there looking for quarterbacks. I’m not saying that they’re looking for me, but there are teams looking for quarterbacks. That’s something that’s always going to be.

“If I do well in the workouts, I think somebody will want to get me in their system and start teaching me all about the NFL.

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"(But) I will admit, I’m taking a risk doing this.”

Maddox, 20, will leave UCLA ranking second behind Tom Ramsey on the school’s all-time passing yardage and total offense lists. His 33 touchdown passes rank third on the all-time list.

Maddox, however, also threw 29 interceptions during his two seasons as the Bruins’ starting quarterback.

Maddox said he spoke several times with UCLA Coach Terry Donahue and former UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman, now with the Dallas Cowboys, before making his decision.

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“There isn’t anybody who loves UCLA football who isn’t very disappointed to have Tommy leave the football program,” Donahue said. “He helped rebuild the program (after a 3-7-1 season in 1989), helped lead us to a 9-3 season (as a sophomore). No one wants to lose their starting quarterback. (But) things have changed. . . .

“Having never been a visible athlete, having never been in his position, it’s not my job to pass judgment. It’s my job to sit in support, but I certainly tried as hard as I could to (point out the benefits of staying in college), as any coach would. No one at UCLA wanted to lose Tommy Maddox, least of all me.

“Obviously, my recruiting skills are not up to where they used to be because he’s going out and not staying,” Donahue said. “So, we lost a big recruit.”

Two quarterbacks remain in the program. Wayne Cook, a sophomore from Newbury Park, took fewer than a dozen snaps last season and did not throw a pass. Rob Walker, a freshman from Austin, Tex., was redshirted last season.

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The Bruins have received an unwritten commitment from Scott Fitterer of Kennedy High in Seattle, who originally committed to California, but changed his mind when Coach Bruce Snyder resigned last month and moved to Arizona State.

UCLA also remains in the running for Shea Morenz of San Angelo, Tex., who is “the No. 1 prospect in the state of Texas and, quite possibly, the country’s No. 1-rated quarterback prospect,” according to Midwest talent scout Tom Lemming.

And, although he has already given an unwritten commitment to Texas, Ryan Fien of Royal High in Simi Valley said Friday that he would consider changing his mind. Donahue visited his home Friday night.

“If there was as good an opportunity for me 30 minutes down the road as there would be at Texas, it would be stupid for me to go that far away,” Fien said.

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Whoever emerges as Maddox’s successor, he will inherit one of college football’s most productive wide receivers. LaChapelle set school records last season of 73 receptions, 1,056 yards receiving and 11 touchdown catches.

LaChapelle said he decided to stay at UCLA after hearing the disappointment in the voices of his parents, Dean and Pat, when he spoke with them by phone Friday morning to tell them he was going to leave.

LaChapelle changed his mind so late that news releases already had been passed out to the media, saying that he was leaving. He didn’t even have time to tell his parents of his change of heart before the news conference started at about 1:20 p.m.

“With Tommy leaving, that put a lot of added pressure on me (to leave),” LaChapelle said. “But I have full respect (for) my coaches’ ability to improvise and bring in another quarterback who will get the job done.

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“Maybe I was thinking emotionally, and I think I was overwhelmed with the possibility of (making) money and the possibility of my stock going down (with Maddox gone).”


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