Cierre Wood has decided not to return to Notre Dame for his final year of eligibility and will instead enter the NFL draft, the university announced Monday.
"Having to make a decision like whether to stay in school or leave to pursue a lifelong dream of playing in the NFL is never simple," Wood said in a news release. "I had to weigh many factors over the last month, but ultimately it came down to what I felt was the right decision that would most benefit my family. With that in mind, I'm leaving Notre Dame and am entering my name for this year's NFL draft."
The running back's decision was first reported by ESPN.
Wood, who did not play as a freshman, was the Irish's second-leading rusher this season. He ran for 740 yards on 110 carries with four touchdowns, averaging 6.7 yards per carry.
The 6-foot, 215-pound Oxnard, Calif., native ran for 2,445 yards with 16 touchdowns in three seasons with Notre Dame.
Wood is projected as a seventh-round draft pick by NFLDraftScout.com.
"There are so many people I need to thank that have helped get me to this point," Wood said. "My teammates are friends I know I'll have the rest of my life. I'll miss hanging out with them in the locker room and around campus. They are a great group of guys and are poised for success next year.
"I also want to thank all of the coaches, specifically (coach Brian) Kelly and (running backs coach Tony) Alford. Coach Kelly has the program heading in the right direction and I'm happy to know he'll remain our head coach in the future. Coach Alford has been so much more than a coach to me. He's been a mentor and a role model. He's helped turn me into the man I am today.
"Lastly, I want to thank the school, our fans and the extended Notre Dame family. The love and appreciation you've shown me in my four years can never be repaid. I'll always remember the ovation I received as I ran out of the tunnel on senior day and I can't thank you enough."
Wood was suspended for the first two games this season. He shared time in the backfield with Theo Riddick, who led the Irish with 880 rushing yards and five touchdowns in his final year of eligibility, as well as George Atkinson III.
The senior said he had an idea of what he would do in the days leading up to Notre Dame's 42-14 loss to Alabama in the BCS championship game, but he wanted to discuss it with his family before making an announcement.
Wood gained two yards on eight carries in the loss to the Crimson Tide.
Wood leaves Notre Dame as the seventh-leading rusher in school history, and no running back in Notre Dame history with as many career rushing attempts (450) as Wood has a better yards-per-rush average then his 5.4-yard average.
"Cierre has been an important member of our football team in my three years at Notre Dame and I appreciate all he did to help get our program back on top," Kelly said in a news release. "I wish him well in the future and hope he has a successful playing career at the next level."
The departure of Wood and graduation of Riddick leaves the Irish with limited experience at running back.
Atkinson ran for 361 yards on 51 carries, averaging 7.1 yards per carry, with five touchdowns this season. But 222 of Atkinson's yards came in wins over Navy and Miami.
Behind Atkinson, Notre Dame will turn to Amir Carlise, a transfer from USC who didn't play this season after suffering a broken ankle in the off-season, Will Mahone and Cam McDaniel. Mahone didn't play this season, and McDaniel had 23 carries for 125 yards this year.
Notre Dame is also bringing in two running backs in this year's recruiting class. Greg Bryant is rated a five-star prospect by Rivals.com, and Tarean Folston is rated a four-star prospect.