Witten ends emotional tug-of-war
By Matt Hill

Star Staff

   KNOXVILLE--Decisions, decisions, decisions.
   Everybody has to make them in their lives, and some are more important than others.
   But not too many had to be as difficult as the one Jason Witten announced he had made on Monday afternoon.
   The Tennessee star tight end and former Elizabethton High School standout told the world yesterday that he will forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft.
   Now Witten had been through difficult decisions before. It was just three years ago that the highly-recruited prospect had to choose between several fine college football programs before deciding to attend UT-Knoxville.
   But that choice paled in comparison to this one, in which he had to decide whether or not to rejoin the Vols, or make himself eligible for the NFL Draft.
   "This decision was a lot tougher," Witten said. "I think that was a dream of mine. My first dream ever was to play for the University of Tennessee, way before I ever thought about playing in the NFL. It was a dream of mine to play at Tennessee.
   "But this is a decision I had to make as a man, that I couldn't make as a boy. I think this was a business decision for me."
   It definitely wasn't easy for the former Cyclone. Witten cherished every moment he had in Knoxville, and relished running through the "T."
   It was easy to tell that the decision was hard for Witten, as the press conference was an emotional one.
   "This is the toughest decision he has ever made," Witten's grandfather and former Elizabethton High School head football coach Dave Rider said. "He loves Tennessee. He loves Coach Fulmer. He loves this program. He made a lot of friends down here that will be with him the rest of his life. But he just saw an opportunity."
   With his brothers, grandfather, grandmother, mother and girlfriend all standing behind him for support, plus friends from Elizabethton in the back of the press room to wish him good luck, Witten had a lot of good people to talk to about the most important decision of his life so far.
   "We support anything he does whether he wants to quit football altogether," Jason's oldest brother and Elizabethton High School assistant football coach Ryan Witten said. "I'm going to be here for him. I'm his blood. He would do the same for me. I would do anything for him."
   Said Rider: "He talked to the family about what to do. I told him we can't make the decision for you, because we don't know what's in your heart. We gave him the pros and cons of going and the pros and cons of staying. I tried to get all the information I could from other sources and give to him, to let him make a decision. This is the one he came up with."
   Also giving him some advice was his friend and teammate, quarterback Casey Clausen.
   Even though Clausen hates to see him go, he sees an extremely bright future for Witten.
   "I told him once you make a decision, don't look back," he said. "Just go from there, and do the best you can. I think he will have a tremendous career."
   Witten's decision might come as a surprise to some people. In October, Ryan told this writer that Jason would be coming back for his senior year.
   But minds can change. Rider thought it was right after the Peach Bowl loss to Maryland when Witten really began to wonder.
   "I think it really started changing after the bowl game," Rider said. "When the other people got outside and started telling him things. Then he got his NFL report, and they started telling him things. Then he talked to some General managers, and some people around the league. Then he started talking to some of his other buddies. And we talked to some players from other schools that came out early and some that waited until their senior year, and got the pluses and minuses from that.
   "But I think a lot of it narrows down that most people say he is the No. 1 tight end in the country right now if he comes out before the NFL Draft. You don't get many opportunities like that. The family told him that we're going to support you, stay or leave."
   Though not in attendance on Monday, Jason Witten said he received full support from head coach Phil Fulmer.
   "He was so supportive, and I can't thank him enough," Jason Witten said. "He just told me that he wished me the best of luck, and I told him that I would always be a Tennessee Vol."
   As the pride of Elizabethton gets ready for a new chapter in his life, his big brother believes his youngest sibling will be able to handle it.
   "He's a grown man, and he makes the decisions," Ryan Witten said. "It's a career, it's a job. It looks like Michael Vick is having fun in the NFL, you know. I think it is going to be fun in the NFL. He's going to get paid to play a game. It will be all right. Everything will be fine."
   Everything should be fine for this kid. Check that, Witten showed on a cold Monday afternoon in Knoxville that he is a man making manly decisions.
   Good luck, Jason.