January 06, 2016

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida safety Keanu Neal is leaving school early and entering the NFL draft.

Neal announced on his Instagram account Wednesday that he is forgoing his final year of eligibility and turning pro. The hard-hitting safety is widely expected to go in the first three rounds of the draft.

''This was honestly the hardest decision I've made,'' Neal wrote. ''It's time to take the next step in my life and attain my dream. Something I've wanted since I was a little boy.''

Neal finished third on the team with 96 tackles last season despite missing the first two games with a hamstring injury.

The 6-foot-1, 216-pound junior from nearby Bushnell is the fifth Florida junior to leave early, following All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, running back Kelvin Taylor, receiver Demarcus Robinson and defensive end Alex McCalister.

Junior safety Marcus Maye, who had 82 tackles, six pass breakups and five forced fumbles, has yet to announce his intentions. Players have until Jan. 18 to declare for the draft.

If Maye leaves, the Gators would lose four of the top five players from arguably the nation's best secondary. Nickel back Brian Poole was a senior in 2015.

Regardless of what happens with Maye, the Gators should be OK in the defensive backfield next season. Sophomore cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson are expected to return, along with safeties Duke Dawson, Nick Washington and Marcell Harris.

Neal played in 34 games during three seasons, finishing his college career with 146 tackles, nine pass defenses, four interceptions and two forced fumbles.

''First day I stepped on campus, I knew I made the right decision,'' Neal wrote about his time at Florida. ''Nothing will ever take away the memories and bonds I've gained. I can confidently say I've grown and matured a lot since my first day here, and it is due to the love and support of family, friends and Gator Nation!''

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AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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