FROM STAFF REPORTS
EAST LANSING — Michigan State is losing its workhorse.
Junior running back Le'Veon Bell, who accounted for nearly 2,000 yards in offense this past season, announced Thursday that he's leaving school early to declare for April's National Football League draft.
Bell rushed for 1,793 yards, and caught 32 passes for an additional 167 yards, for the 7-6 Spartans. He rushed for 145 yards in last Saturday's 17-16 comeback win over Texas Christian in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
"This was the hardest decision of my life," he said in a statement released by the Michigan State athletic department. "It's difficult to leave my teammates and coaches as well as Spartan Nation, but I couldn't pass on pursuing my dream and the opportunity to change my mom's life."
Opinions vary on how high Bell will go in the draft. ESPN's Scouts Inc. has the 6-foot-2, 237-pound Bell pegged as the second best back in the draft right now. CBS Sports ranks him as the eighth best back, but still a third round pick.
Bell's teammate, junior tight end Dion Sims, also indicated Thursday that he'll forego his final year of eligibility, too. Sims is ranked the fourth best tight end available by Scouts Inc..
"After talking things over with my family and some of my teammates, I decided the timing was right to make the move because I believe that I'm ready to play at the next level," the 6-5, 285-pound Sims said.
Many expect junior defensive end William Gholston to follow. His mother told the Detroit Free Press that he'll be making a decision in the next couple of days.
Bell, meanwhile, finished his career as Michigan State's seventh all-time rusher, gaining 3,346 yards. He caught 78 passes for 531 yards in his career.
"Le'Veon Bell established himself as a running back who could carry the load, as he carried the ball over 380 times this season for us," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. "Although he was the Big Ten's leading rusher following the regular season, it was his physical durability that was most impressive.
"As a 20-year-old, Le'Veon faced an extremely difficult decision. While I do believe there was both personal and program value in Le'Veon returning for his senior season, I acknowledge the difficult choice he had to make."
Bell certainly ended his career on a high note in the bowl victory over TCU.
"I couldn't have written a better script for my final game in a Spartan uniform, coming back from a 13-0 deficit against TCU to win in the final minute," he said. "I ran the ball well against a great TCU defense, but the most important thing was getting the 'W.' It was exciting to celebrate with my teammates one last time and leave on that note."
Michigan State returns three backs with limited experience — Nick Hill, Jeremy Langford and redshirt freshman Nick Tompkins. The Spartans have recruited two runnings backs as part of their 2013 class — Flint's Gerald Holmes and Wisconsin's R.J. Shelton. Another incoming recruit, Pennsylvania's Delton Williams, could be in the mix as well.