ORLANDO, Fla. - Twenty Penn State seniors will end their college football careers as darkness falls on Friday. Probably less than half of them will move on to the NFL; the others will begin careers away from the playing field.
But juniors Navorro Bowman and Evan Royster will take a few days or so after the Capital One Bowl matchup against LSU to decide if they, too, have concluded playing for Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions, and move up to the next level.
Bowman, a linebacker who is one of Penn State's top tacklers this season, and Royster, who is eighth on the school's all-time list for rushing yards, both redshirted as freshmen so they have put in four years in Happy Valley and can enter the NFL draft. Both could be high draft picks if they decide to leave.
Bowman, a projected first-round pick on some draft Web sites, sounded yesterday as if he were ready for the next level.
"I'm going to sit down and talk to Joe about everything and hear what he has to say," Bowman said after the Lions practiced yesterday at Freedom High School. "Hopefully, it's good and he's behind me and with me on making the right decision."
Money also is a factor with Bowman, who has a young son.
"I've never been rich before, so it's always on my mind," he said.
Royster, however, sounded noncommittal about whether he'll leave even though many Web sites have him in the top six or eight running backs.
"It's something that's come up in my head throughout the season," he said, "but I'm not even close to making a decision. I'm probably just going to sit down with my family after the bowl game and try to make a decision. If I don't, I'll kind of wait for the time to come until I feel it's right."
Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the NFL draft.
Both players carry skills that should help them make an NFL team.
The 6-foot-1, 232-pound Bowman missed 21/2 games early in the season with a pulled groin muscle but still finished 10th in the nation in tackles for loss (15.5, a 1.55 average). He posted 84 total tackles, good for second on the team. He has received recognition on eight all-American teams, topped by five second-team mentions.
"I've been through so much and came from so little and worked to get to this point," said Bowman, who received his degree in crime, law and justice earlier this month. "I just want to make the right decision and ultimately [realize] my dream."
The 6-1, 213-pound Royster, who said he is "one or two classes" away from a degree in management information systems, is not a flashy runner but has a knack of avoiding tacklers quickly and picking up yards after first contact. He also can catch the football, with 16 receptions - two for TDs - this season.
"I feel I'm an every-down type of player," he said. "I'm not one of those small scatbacks that can only come in on third down or passing downs. I'm somebody who can run between the tackles and move the chains.
"You see guys in the NFL, like Brian Westbrook, catch the football more these days and I think it's definitely something that adds to my resume."
Both players say there is a possibility they will return for their final season of eligibility. But both acknowledge the chance of injury, such as what happened with Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, who passed on the draft after winning the 2008 Heisman Trophy but missed virtually the entire season with a shoulder injury.
First, however, there is a bowl game to play, and then the decision-making begins.
"I just want to finish strong," Bowman said. "I have a chance of raising my stock in this game so I'm just trying to have the best game I can have and see where I end up."
Nittany Notes. Defensive linemen Brandon Ware and James Terry did not make the trip to Florida with the Nittany Lions for what a team spokesman said was a "violation of team rules.". . . Walk-on running back Kevin Kowalishen, a redshirt freshman who had been playing on the scout team, suffered a torn ACL during practice last week in Daytona Beach, Fla.