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East Lansing – Michigan State confirmed on Tuesday what had been reported a day earlier and assumed would happen for much longer than that – defensive lineman Malik McDowell will forgo his final season with the Spartans and enter the NFL draft.

McDowell was the only returning starter along the defensive line for a team that went to the College Football Playoffs in 2015. He finished his junior season with 34 tackles, including seven for loss while starting five games at tackle and three at end. McDowell missed the final three games because of an ankle injury.

“I’m excited to announce that after careful consideration and numerous discussions with my family and coaches, I have decided to forgo my remaining college eligibility at Michigan State University and enter the 2017 NFL Draft,” McDowell posted on Twitter. “This was a very difficult decision and I will always cherish my time in East Lansing. I want to thank my family, coaches, teachers, administrators and teammates. I’m ready to fulfill my childhood dream of playing in the NFL. I promised my parents that I would come back to Michigan State University to finish my college education and get my degree.”

The Detroit native was named first-team All-Big Ten by the Associated Press and earned second-team honors from the league’s coaches and media. The 6-6, 276-pound McDowell collected 90 tackles, including 24.5 for losses and 7.5 sacks, in 36 career games (23 starts).

McDowell came to Michigan State from Southfield High as a heralded five-star recruit who was ranked the No. 26 player in the nation by Rivals.com. He was named a Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America in 2014 and was second-team All-Big Ten as a sophomore in 2015.

“Malik McDowell is an extremely gifted player who has demonstrated the ability and mindset to succeed at the next level,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said in a statement. “His pre-draft numbers project him as a likely first-round selection. We are thankful for his contributions to the program that significantly impacted our recent success, culminating with last year’s Big Ten Championship and an appearance in the College Football Playoff. We wish him the best and are excited for the opportunity in the next chapter of his life as he pursues his dream to play in the NFL.”

The latest rankings from CBSsports.com rank McDowell as the 11th overall prospect for next spring’s draft, including the No. 1-rated defensive tackle.