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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Leinart stays with USC; Tatupu leaves

Associated Press

Matt Leinart wasn’t the only college star to decide his future Friday.

While the Southern California junior quarterback opted to pass on NFL millions and stay in school, teammate Lofa Tatupu announced he will skip his senior season and enter the April draft.

On the eve of the deadline for underclassmen to declare their draft status, several touted players chose to remain in school. Possible first-rounders Memphis tailback DeAngelo Williams and Texas defensive tackle Rod Wright decided to stay, as did Longhorns strong safety Michael Huff and Trojans punter Tom Malone.

Virginia linebacker Darryl Blackstock and Notre Dame defensive end Justin Tuck announced they will forgo their senior seasons. The San Jose State duo of defensive end Tony Ficklin and running back Tyson Thompson and San Diego State linebacker Matt McCoy also said they’re turning pro.

Leinart could have gone to the San Francisco 49ers as the first pick in upcoming draft. Instead, he’ll try to lead Trojans to an unprecedented third straight national title and become just the second two-time Heisman winner.

Trojans coach Pete Carroll said the coaching staff worked hard to help Leinart and the two other juniors make their decisions. He said the coaches didn’t “hit it on all cylinders” due to the loss of Tatupu but added that the linebacker would remain a member of the Trojan family forever.

Utah announced that star receiver Steve Savoy, a third-year sophomore, has withdrawn from classes and signed with an agent, bypassing his final two seasons.

Williams, the two-time Conference USA offensive player of the year, led Memphis to an 8-4 season and a bid to the GMAC Bowl. The third-team All-American ran for 1,948 yards on 313 carries and scored 22 touchdowns in 2004.

Texas’ Wright was projected by some draft analysts as a possible first- or second-round pick. At 6-5, 300 pounds, he was second among Longhorns defensive linemen last season with 36 tackles.

After helping Texas finish 11-1 with a victory in the Rose Bowl, Wright said he wanted to help Texas get back to Pasadena. The Rose Bowl will host the Bowl Championship Series title game next season.

“I thought about being somewhere, in some cold city by myself, watching this team win a national championship,” he said.

Huff had 73 tackles and two interceptions last season.

Blackstock decided to leave after leading all linebackers with 11 sacks this season. He had 27 as a three-year starter at Virginia.

“Darryl played a significant role in a lot of games that we have won,” Virginia coach Al Groh said. “He is a talented player, and we wish great success for him with this next challenge.”

Tuck, Notre Dame’s career sacks leader, was voted the team’s most valuable player last season. The Irish defensive end finished with 24 1/2 sacks, including a single-season record of 13 1/2 in 2003.

“The coaching staff at Notre Dame did a great job preparing me for the NFL,” said Tuck, who will graduate in May from Notre Dame’s business school. “I know that I’m ready to test my skills and meet the challenges.”

San Jose State’s Ficklin made the all-conference team last season, recording seven sacks and 17 tackles for loss for the Spartans, while Thompson rushed for 811 yards and five touchdowns.

“With the numbers I had this season, I think this was the right time to come out,” he said.

McCoy was a second-team all-Mountain West Conference choice as a sophomore and junior for the Aztecs. He was second on the team with 90 tackles last season.

Underclassmen have until today to declare for the draft and have until Jan. 19 to withdraw their names.

Moss looks good in practice

Randy Moss returned to practice with the Minnesota Vikings, and he moved around well on his sprained right ankle despite some soreness.

Moss, listed as probable for Sunday’s divisional playoff game at Philadelphia, was held out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday to rest.

“He looked great,” Vikings coach Mike Tice said. “He didn’t have a hitch in his giddy-up, so that was good.”

Moss is listed as probable.

Schottenheimer gets extension

San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer agreed Friday to a two-year contract extension with the Chargers that runs through the 2007 season. Schottenheimer has one year remaining on his original four-year deal, which he signed in January 2002 and paid him $2.5 million a season. Terms of the extension weren’t immediately available.

Rams anticipate Bruce will play

The St. Louis Rams expect wide receiver Isaac Bruce, listed as questionable with groin and hand injuries, to play in today’s playoff game against the Falcons.

Bruce injured his groin in last week’s victory over the Seattle Seahawks. He’s been bothered by the hand injury for several weeks and was downgraded to questionable on Thursday.

“We’ll see how he’s doing,” coach Mike Martz said. “I think he’ll be fine. We’ll just check him out before the game to be sure.”

Keys to sing at Super Bowl

Alicia Keys will sing “America the Beautiful” before the Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., on Feb. 6.

It will be just the third time the song is sung at the Super Bowl – previously performed by Vicki Carr and Ray Charles.

Accompanying Keys will be 150 students from the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, which Charles attended in 1937.