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Virginia Tech’s Deshawn McClease escapes Kentucky’s Brandin Echols in the first half. McClease went over 100 yards for the game when he ran 43 yards for a touchdown that put Tech up 24-17.

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech running back Deshawn McClease announced he’s forgoing his final year of eligibility and entering the NFL Draft on Monday.

“After much thought and prayer I have to decided to forgo my last year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft,” McClease said. “To my teammates and brothers I cannot begin to express the joy that I get knowing that we have built a bond that will last a lifetime, As you attack the 2020 season understand that if it were easy, everyone would do it. Do everything with purpose.”

McClease also thanked Tech’s coaching staff and faculty for “always challenging” him during his time in Blacksburg.

The running back hinted at the possibility of entering the NFL draft after Tech’s 37-30 loss to Kentucky in the Belk Bowl.

“I’ve thought about it,” McClease said of leaving. “I still have some discussing to do with my family and the coaching staff. I’ll take as much time as I need to reevaluate things.”

McClease led the Hokies with 843 rushing yards this season (4.8 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns. He put up a career-high 126 yards in the Belk Bowl. It was his fifth 100-yard rushing performance of his career and third in a bowl game.

He ended up three yards this season shy of passing Jerod Evans to become Tech's leading rusher during coach Justin Fuente's tenure. The former Hokies quarterback ran for 846 yards in 2016.

The Chesapeake native was part of retired Tech coach Frank Beamer’s final signing class in 2015 as a three-star prospect out of Oscar Smith High School. He put up 5,025 yards and 82 touchdowns in his high school career.

McClease gained a sixth year of eligibility after the NCAA approved a medical redshirt for the 2016 season he missed with a shoulder injury. He burned his initial redshirt as a true freshman in 2015. He will leave Tech with two degrees (consumer studies and human development).

“This is an adult,” Fuente said in Charlotte. “You just sit down and have a conservation, support them in any way they want to go. To me it’s about providing information to these adults as they try to figure out what they want.”

Tech will likely experience some more attrition at running back before the start of spring camp.

Without McClease, the Hokies still have six returning running backs on scholarship (Jalen Holston Keshawn King, Caleb Steward, Tahj Gary, Terius Wheatley, Cole Beck) and four incoming freshmen (Marco Lee, Khalil Herbert, Jordan Brunson and Jalen Hampton). Herbert and Lee are enrolling in January.

Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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