MOBILE, Ala. — Nick Fairley, Auburn's other big-name star, also is heading to the NFL after winning the Lombardi Award and helping Cam Newton lead the Tigers to a national title.
The potential No. 1 overall pick announced his decision Friday at his old high school, saying he didn't make up his mind until that morning after long talks with his coaches and his parents and a solitary drive around his hometown. The deciding factor?
"I was thinking, 'What more could I accomplish my senior year?'" Fairley said.
His decision means Auburn's two most dominant stars won't be back next season. Newton, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, said Thursday night that he was entering the draft.
The two junior college transfers led the Tigers to a 14-0 season and their first national title since 1957.
Fairley was the defensive MVP in the BCS title game against Oregon when he had a sack, three tackles for losses and forced a fumble. The 6-foot-5, 298-pound All-American defensive tackle also led the Southeastern Conference with 24 tackles for a loss and had a school-record 11.5 sacks.
Fairley said he met with Auburn coach Gene Chizik and defensive line coach Tracy Rocker in Auburn, then came home Thursday and talked it over with his parents.
After that, "I went on a long ride by myself. I think I came out with the best decision to benefit me, my family and all the folks around me."
Fairley played two seasons at Auburn after transferring from junior college, where he redshirted in 2007. He flashed his potential at times in 2009, but didn't consistently dominate until this season.
"It's crazy for me to be in this position," Fairley said. "Coming into this year, I didn't think things were going to be this big. I didn't know I was going to have a big year like that."
If he is taken first in the draft, he would join former Williamson High and LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell as a No. 1 pick from the school.
"Nick emerged into a very dominant player this season and was a key factor for the success of our championship run," Chizik said. "His ability to control the line of scrimmage was truly amazing. We know that Nick loves Auburn, but this decision is in the best interest of him and his family. We wish him well as he takes the next step in his football career and life."
Fairley earned the nickname "The Beast" at Auburn with play that was both dominating and, at times, rough enough to draw a reputation among some opponents as a dirty player.
"Of course, that's a name that I want to keep in the NFL," he said. "I'm looking forward to going to the NFL and trying to dominate for a couple of years."
Fairley was called for a personal foul after twisting an Oregon player's helmet in Monday night's championship game. He was known for bodyslamming several quarterbacks and drew attention for a helmet-first late hit from behind on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.
Former Auburn defensive end and Williamson product Antonio Coleman attended the announcement and compared Fairley to Ndamukong Suh, a tackle who was drafted second overall by Detroit last year.
"You rarely meet defensive tackles like Nick Fairley — big, strong, fast — all in one," said Coleman, who just completed his rookie season with the Buffalo Bills. "Suh came out last year, and I think he's better than him. That's just my opinion.
"I think he has a great opportunity."
Fairley is one of nine siblings, and said he wants to use his NFL money to "set my mom and dad straight."
"All the pain and struggle they went through to get me where I'm at right now, I just want to pay them back for it," he said.Comment on this story
Fairley's mother, Paula Rogers, said she urged her son to stay in school.
"But like I told him, 'Whatever decision you make it's up to you,'" Rogers said. "I would love him to have that degree for Auburn. He's going back to get it. I'll make sure of that. He came too close not to get it."
Fairley also wanted to fulfill the wish of grandfather Chester Fairley, who died when Nick was 14.
"This has been a dream of my grandfather since I can remember, sitting down and watching sports with him on Sundays," Fairley said. "He was just like, 'I want to see one of my grandkids on TV one day on Sunday.' It's working out so I can make his dream come true, and I know he's looking down and smiling on me today."