January 07, 2013

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) -- Back in seventh grade, Zach Ertz hated football so much he wanted to quit. Instead, his mother, Lisa, convinced him to give the sport a chance- if nothing else just so he could see if he could reach his full potential.

"I'd say it worked out all right," Ertz said Monday.

The All-American tight end officially announced his plans to forego his final year of eligibility at Stanford and enter the NFL draft. While the move had been expected, Ertz said the Cardinal's recent run of success - and the emergence of quarterback Kevin Hogan - at least made him consider returning for one more run at a national title.

"Kevin's special, man. All those guys coming back on defense, I think they're going to be one of the best teams in the country next year," Ertz said by phone. "They're going to be really good. But at the same time, I have to do what's best for me and my family at this time. I couldn't pass up the opportunity."

Ertz submitted paperwork to the NFL to gauge where he could be selected. He's expected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick in April.

After playing in the Orange Bowl and Fiesta Bowl the previous two years, Ertz had a team-best 69 receptions for 898 yards and six touchdowns while leading No. 8 Stanford (12-2) to the Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. The Cardinal had not won the Rose Bowl since 1972.

Ertz came up big in the biggest moments of the year, too. He caught the tying touchdown to force overtime in a win at top-ranked Oregon, the winning score against No. 2 Southern California and a 17-yard reception on fourth and 9 on the final drive of regulation against Arizona to rally Stanford from a two-touchdown deficit for an overtime victory.

The 6-foot-6, 252-pound Ertz starred in football and basketball at nearby Monte Vista High School in Danville, Calif., where coaches convinced him to focus on football. Former San Francisco 49ers standout and four-time Pro Bowl tight end Brent Jones also helped mentor and mold Ertz into an elite blocker and receiver.

Ertz plans to take the spring quarter off before finishing his degree in management science and engineering. He will train at California Strength in San Ramon, Calif., the same facility where former Stanford receivers Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu worked out before they headed to the NFL.

Ertz is only the latest Cardinal tight end to head to the NFL early.

Coby Fleener was drafted 34th overall by the Indianapolis Colts last year. Jim Dray is playing for the Arizona Cardinals and Konrad Reuland is playing for the New York Jets.

Fellow Stanford tight end Levine Toilolo also is contemplating foregoing his senior season to join Ertz in the draft. Toilolo had 24 receptions for 393 yards and four touchdowns. He's not nearly as polished a pro product as Ertz, but at 6-foot-8 and 265 pounds, scouts have salivated over Toilolo's size.

"Stanford's had a lot of great tight ends for sure," Ertz said. "Guys like Jim and Konrad really started it lately, and I'm just thankful to have been a part of it."

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