STATE COLLEGE, Pa. –– The decision was already made, so Yetur Gross-Matos didn’t feel the need to wait.

That’s why the standout junior defensive end announced his plans to declare for the 2020 NFL draft and forego his final year of eligibility at Penn State.

“I had a lot of information, but it still wasn’t an easy decision,” Gross-Matos said at Penn State’s bowl media day last week. “I love my family here at Penn State –– my coaches, my brothers in the room. It was really hard to decide that I’m not going to be here next year to play with them, but I know it’s the right decision. It wasn’t a quick, easy decision.”

But what was also in his message to Nittany Lions fans was that he will be playing in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday against Memphis. While sitting out bowl games has become a popular trend among players leaving school early for the draft, it wasn’t even a consideration for Gross-Matos.

“I just wanted to see it out, see it through,” Gross-Matos said. “I started the season. I wanted to finish it. It’s my last game.

“It’s almost like a second family to me. I love this place. To leave this place is going to be super hard. I want to end it the right way.”

Gross-Matos also emphasized his wanting to get the bad taste out of his mouth from the last time he stepped out onto the field –– that loss to Ohio State in Columbus. He sat out the regular season finale due to a hand injury suffered in that loss to the Buckeyes, and he was still wearing what looked to be a soft hand cast when talking with the media last week.

So his decision to not skip out on the bowl game means a lot to his teammates.

“He could’ve forgone the game like a lot of people do,” defensive tackle PJ Mustipher said. “But that shows that this brotherhood, the family that we have in the d-line room, means the world to him. And just for him to suit up one more time with us, we really appreciate that. He’s an integral part of what we do on a game-to-game basis.”

Gross-Matos has certainly made a big impact on the Penn State defense over the course of his three seasons in Happy Valley. His 18 career sacks rank him 13th all-time in program history, and just two sacks this weekend would vault him into the top 10. His 8.5 sacks this season leads the Nittany Lions and ranks fifth in the Big Ten.

Last season, he finished with 20 tackles for loss, which is the eighth-most in a season in Penn State history.

“He’s a game-changer,” Mustipher said.

Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos (99) closes in on Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey (12) in 2018.
Doug McSchooler / AP
Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos (99) closes in on Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey (12) in 2018.

That game-changing ability is a big reason Gross-Matos was projected by Todd McShay to be selected at the end of the first round in his initial mock draft. McShay isn’t the only analyst who thinks Gross-Matos is a likely first-round pick, and that probably made his decision a bit easier. Even coach James Franklin knows that.

“Typically it's pretty cut and dry if it's [the] first round,” Franklin said. “You really should plan on making that decision and moving on.”

Franklin also said Friday that he and the rest of the coaching staff will never recruit players to come back. He’s consistently said throughout his time at Penn State that his job is to provide his players with all of the necessary information to make the best decisions for themselves.

“We kind of talk about it from both perspectives,” Franklin said. “A lot of times I think the players, they’re uncomfortable having the conversation with you because they think you’re just going to tell them to come back. And the reality is you want it to be a win-win. So if they leave early, it’s in their best interests and our best interests that they get drafted as high as possible because that allows us to show our current players and the next recruits that, ‘Look, if you come here you can get drafted high.’ ”

Those conversations with Gross-Matos began over the summer. It was pretty clear then that he had a chance to be a first-round pick come April, and those conversations only amplified with his play on the field this season.

But this isn’t a farewell tour for Gross-Matos in Dallas. He wants to play, and more importantly, he wants to win.

“If we’re out there in a tight game for four quarters, I want to be out there for four quarters,” Gross-Matos said. “This is a game I want to win.”