Oregon junior Javes Lewis, a 12-game starter in the defensive backfield in 2009, has left the team after declaring himself available for April's NFL draft.
The NFL released the list of early entry candidates for the draft Wednesday, after a 72-hour window closed in which those who declared by Saturday's deadline were allowed to withdraw. Among the most surprising names on the list was that of Lewis, a backup during the Ducks' run to the national championship game in 2010.
"It was a shock to me; that one took me back a bit," said UO defensive backs coach John Neal, who said he had "a long talk with (Lewis) a couple days ago."
"He was clear on why he was doing it. He realized the risks, and the rewards."
Neal said Lewis had withdrawn from Oregon and was in Arizona training for the draft. Reached via text message, Lewis declined to comment, saying he would "rather not touch on my decision."
NFL draft analyst Rob Rang wrote on his blog at CBSSports.com that Lewis "isn't likely to be drafted."
Lewis, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound defender from Tustin, Calif., was Oregon's fourth-leading tackler in 2009, as a starter at safety and cornerback. He played off the bench in 2010 due in part to the emergence of Cliff Harris at cornerback and the conversion of linebacker Eddie Pleasant into a starting safety.
Prospects for Lewis to win a starting job as a senior in 2011 were slim, as well. Harris, Pleasant and safety John Boyett are returning starters, and Lewis figured to be pushed for playing time in a reserve role by sophomores Brian Jackson and Marcus Davis and redshirt freshman Erick Dargan.
"We have plenty of options, which is a real blessing for the team," Neal said. "But you hate to lose anybody that you've trained for four years, and now they're not here anymore."
Lewis has enrolled at University of Phoenix. Neal described him as "a good student."
"I hope he gets his degree from the University of Oregon, though," Neal said. "That's what I told him: 'I hope you degree says University of Oregon on it.' "
Neal said he had concerns that frustration over playing time might lead Lewis to investigate a transfer this offseason. But the idea that Lewis might declare for the draft "never crossed my mind."
"In his mind, he was very lucid about it, and had no doubt it was what he wanted to do," Neal said. "I just wished him the best, and told him if he needed anything, I'd help.
"He's been a really good Duck for us, and a big part of a whole bunch of winning seasons for us. I'm disappointed he's leaving. But as a coach, if a kid's not happy and feels there's something better for him if he parts ways, I can live with that."