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Will he stay or will he go?

Ole Miss TE French considers leaving for NFL

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Posted: Sunday December 27, 1998 07:50 PM

  Rufus on fire: French had 35 catches for 386 yards and two touchdowns during the regular season Todd Warshaw/ Allsport

SHREVEPORT, Louisiana (AP) -- All-American tight end Rufus French hasn't decided if the Independence Bowl will be his last game at Mississippi, or if he will return for his senior season.

French said a decision about early entrance into the NFL draft won't be fully considered until after the New Year's Eve game against Texas Tech, when the season will be over and he has time to discuss the situation with his family.

"We'll be looking more at it the Saturday after the game," French said. "What I want to do, that will be the deciding factor.'

There will not be much time left to talk about it. There is a January 8 deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL's draft in April.

This season, even while used primarily as a blocker, the 6-foot-4, 250-pound French has 35 catches for 386 yards and two touchdowns.

French said the coaching change at Ole Miss would not affect his decision, but added that he does like the changes since the regular season finale that brought David Cutcliffe, the former offensive coordinator at No. 1 Tennessee, to replace Tommy Tuberville as head coach.

"Without a doubt, the coaching staff is a great group of guys. You can't ask any more from the coaches we have now," French said. "It definitely will not be based on that, but what I want to do."

French has given little indication as to what he wants to do.

Some NFL scouts have hinted that he needs another college season to continue to improve his blocking. French already catches just about everything thrown his way.

"The question since I have been playing tight end has been my blocking. They say 'he can catch' but they don't know about my blocking," he said. "I've been working hard on that all season."

Cutcliffe said he has spoken with French at different times about the draft, but said he has not been around the tight end long enough to counsel him about the decision.

"It's something Rufus and his family will have to address when the time comes," Cutcliffe said. "He's been great, because he's been focused on what he's been doing. He hasn't been distracted. He hasn't been a distraction to his friends or his teammates.

"We talked, and we kind of know where we stand, and we're going to leave it at that until after the bowl game."

If French returns for his senior season, he has a chance to become the Rebels first two-time All-American. And he will most likely break the school career reception mark for a tight end, needing only 11 to break the school record of 94.

If not, he will be on track -- a year earlier than expected -- to become the fourth Ole Miss tight end since 1988 to play in the NFL.

Wesley Walls, an All-American in 1988, and Kris Magnum, the tight end starter before French, both play for the Carolina Panthers. Tyji Armstrong was on the 1992 NFL All-Rookie team in the first of his four seasons at Tampa Bay and later played a year in Dallas.

 
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