August 22, 2008

Did Pettigrew make the right call?

I wouldn't know first-hand, but I imagine it's pretty hard to turn down the chance for a boatload of money.

And whether or not they actually get it, leaving early to go to the NFL often has college kids dreaming of cashing in.

That was a situation Brandon Pettigrew faced after a successful 2007 season, which saw him catch 35 passes for 540 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers accounted for about half of his entire production in college (70 receptions, 978 yards, nine scores).

So it would have been understandable had the 6-6, 260-pounder from Tyler, Texas, had decided to take the "I'm goin' pro" plunge after playing in the Insight Bowl. In fact, that was the biggest question he faced leading up to that game. I remember, clear as day, Pettigrew fielding questions about that topic. Sitting there in a fancy chair in the lobby of the suite level of Boone Pickens Stadium, he said he wasn't sure what he'd do and would decide after the game. A lot of Cowboy fans were worried he'd bolt. Can you blame him? The chance for NFL fame and riches don't come around very often and turning it down to come back to college ball and go back to class is a tough decision to make.

But turn it down he did. Instead of taking that chance, he decided his best play was to finish school and take the field one more year for OSU.

Was it a wise move? Normally, I'd do my best impression of Steve Miller and say take the money and run. But in his case, it was the right call.

Why? Several reasons:

1. Staying in Stillwater might make him even more money. Before he announced his decision to stay, it seemed like most draft boards had him going possibly in the second round, but mainly in that third- or fourth-round range. Not a horrible placing, but not as lucrative as possible, either. Heck, the Rivals.com national draft board in 2008 didn't even list Pettigrew in its top 20 for tight ends. But now that he is staying for his senior year, draft boards have him much higher. In fact, NFLDraftBlitz.com has him as the No. 3 tight end for 2009 after Travis Beckum of Wisconsin and Chase Coffman of Missouri. And DraftCountdown.com has No. 87 as No. 1 on their list for 2009 tight ends. That's a big jump on the draft board and in pay.

2. He could put up even bigger numbers. As stated previously, he put up half of his entire collegiate production in 2007. But how much could he produce this season? With Adarius Bowman gone and Dez Bryant the only real known quantity at wide receiver, Pettigrew could definitely see his numbers go up this season. I believe there's enough talent at wideout that a second and third option will definitely step up at the position, but Pettigrew is such a beast that the offensive game plan would be kooky if it didn't include a lot of plays for Pettigrew to get his hands on the ball.

3. He thinks this year could be a big one. If you're sticking around and delaying the NFL dream for a year, that must be a compliment to the program. Why stick around if things are going badly in the locker room? I remember in 2000 when Reggie White should have stayed for another year, but didn't. At the time, the program was a mess and he didn't want to stick around for a new coach. Understandable. He took his chances and went to the NFL - and vanished. But if things were better and OSU had opportunities for bowl games, would he have stuck around? My guess is yes, because: 1. He needed to stay; and 2. He would have been a big part of the offense; and 3. It would have just been more fun. In Pettigrew's case, the program has been going to bowl games and, as he said in his press release back in January: "Our program is on the brink of reaching another level and I would like to do my part to help us reach that goal. Our coaching staff has done a great job of putting the pieces in place and I think 2008 could be a memorable season." That's about the best piece of recruiting propaganda you could receive.

It's got to be hard to delay going for something so big like playing in the NFL. Even though people get hammered for leaving early, I'm all about the free-market economy and if there's a demand for your services - head on out the door and don't forget to open a big Swiss bank account. But this is a case where the right decision was to stay. He's going to increase his earning power with a big senior campaign and could be part of something special if OSU pulls off a surprise Kansas-type bowl run.

The only negative to staying?

A big-time injury. As long as that's avoided, the Pettigrew Comeback Tour will ultimately be a success and his ability will play a big part in how far OSU goes this season.

Justin Wilmeth is the Editor of OStateIllustrated.com. He can be reached via e-mail at justin@ostate.com.

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