Tennessee junior offensive lineman Antonio "Tiny" Richardson will skip his final year of college eligibility to enter the NFL Draft.
"I have truly loved every moment of being a Tennessee Volunteer and will always be a Vol For Life," Richardson said in a statement released by UT on Friday. "As much as I have enjoyed my time at Tennessee, I have long dreamed of playing in the NFL and taking care of my family. After careful consideration, I have decided to forego my senior year and enter the 2014 NFL Draft."
"I am grateful to all of my Tennessee coaches and everyone in the football program who made my life easier, from trainers to tutors to our fans, who are the best in the country. I am ready for the next level and look forward to what I know will be an exciting challenge."
The Nashville native was a preseason All-SEC selection and has started the final 24 games of his college career.
Richardson's departure ensures that the Vols will have an entirely new starting offensive line in 2014. Four of the other starters on this year's squad were seniors.
"We appreciate Antonio's efforts and contributions to University of Tennessee football," Vols coach Butch Jones said in the release. "He will always be a Vol For Life and we wish him all the best as he looks to further his career in the National Football League."
The Vols rushed for 2,261 yards in 2013, the most since 2004.
"I think the world of him as a person and as a player as well," said Vols offensive line coach Don Mahoney last month.
Some draft experts project Richardson to be selected as high as the first round. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound tackle took out an insurance policy before the 2013 season, a protection used by many top players.
One other junior on the Vols' roster could consider leaving early for the NFL. Linebacker A.J. Johnson said he will consult with family and coaches before making his decision.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.