Caleb Williams declares for NFL draft, leaving USC after two seasons

USC quarterback Caleb Williams waves to fans while leaving the field after the Trojans' 52-42 loss to Washington

Caleb Williams waited until the final moments, but the decision shouldn't come as a surprise.

The Heisman Trophy winner will go to the NFL.

Williams declared for the NFL draft on Monday, the deadline for underclassmen to enter their names into the pool, officially ending his celebrated college career that included two record-breaking seasons at USC.

The quarterback is expected to be among the top players selected in April's draft after he threw for 8,170 yards and 72 touchdowns in his two-year USC career with head coach Lincoln Riley. Williams won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore in his first year with the Trojans, becoming the program's eighth Heisman winner, after transferring from Oklahoma.

Read more: What's next for Caleb Williams? QB reflects on lessons from challenging season at USC

Despite not playing in the USC’s bowl game on Dec. 27 — instead watching from the sideline and celebrating with teammates after USC beat Louisville behind quarterback Miller Moss — Williams did not make his NFL decision public until Monday. The delay sparked speculation he was trying to steer which team might draft him or weighing a return to school.

He posted a message on social media thanking his family, teammates and coaches.

“To my Trojan family, it’s been an honor putting on the cardinal and gold these last two years. I hope I gave you as many good memories as you have given to me,” he wrote on Instagram.

“I still have a lot to learn and I’m ready to do whatever it takes. As a kid, I said this is what I was going to do for the rest of my life, but I didn’t work this hard just to reach this point. I will continue my journey to make that little kid proud of the man I will be for many years to come.”

Read more: NFL scouts are torn on whether Caleb Williams will be No. 1 pick of draft

The Chicago Bears, who drafted quarterback Justin Fields just two years ago, own the top overall pick.

Williams was considered a lock for the top pick after his Heisman season, during which he set almost a dozen school records, but his stock started to waver during his junior year as USC struggled. The Trojans lost five of their last six regular-season games. Once USC fell out of the national championship conversation with two losses by October, pundits wondered whether Williams should just skip the rest of the season. Instead, he threw for 3,633 yards and 30 touchdowns this season while improving his passing efficiency to 170.1, besting the school record he set in 2022. He led the team in rushing touchdowns with 11.

Although he played behind a struggling offensive line during his junior season, Williams averaged 303 passing yards and 3.4 total touchdowns per game this season, which wasn’t far off his Heisman campaign of 324 passing yards and 3.71 total touchdowns per game in 2022.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.