LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan has put himself in a position to make a lot of money this spring.
Lewan isn’t sure if he’s ready to cash in on his production and potential just yet.
The Associated Press All-America first-team selection is undecided about whether to stay for his senior season, and fifth year in college, or to enter the NFL draft.
“I’m leaning right in the middle,” Lewan said in a telephone interview with the AP on Tuesday. “To potentially be a top-five or top-10 pick is tough to pass up, but there’s nothing like being in college because it’s a great opportunity you only get once. There are pros and cons either way and I’ll weigh them all after the bowl season.
“Right now, I’m focused on helping the University of Michigan win the Outback Bowl.”
That won’t be easy.
Lewan will be going against South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, another AP first-team selection, in an intriguing matchup on New Year’s Day when the 19th-ranked Wolverines (8-4) play the 11th-ranked Gamecocks (10-2).
“I know Taylor has a lot of respect for Clowney, and he’s looking forward to facing him,” Wolverines offensive line coach Darrell Funk said.
Michigan gave up a Big Ten-low 15 sacks this season thanks in large part to Lewan, its 6-foot-8, 309-pound left tackle.
Clowney — a 6-6, 256-pound sophomore — had 13½ sacks this year.
“He’s very explosive player who plays every play to the whistle and never takes a snap off,” Lewan said. “It’s a great opportunity to see where I’m at and where he’s at and I’m excited about it.
“But it’s not about me or him, it’s about the University of Michigan playing South Carolina at the Outback Bowl.”
After the game, Lewan said he plans to spend several days in Louisiana with his girlfriend before returning to Ann Arbor in time to take classes on Jan. 8 — a week before he would have to declare for the draft.
“My coaches and teammates will know what I’m going to do first,” he said. “Then, we’ll let everyone else know.”
Lewan, who is from Arizona, didn’t think he could even play past high school.
“My dad told me, ‘You’re going to have an opportunity to play college football,’ after my junior year and I thought there was no way,” he recalled. “I didn’t play on the offensive line until my senior year. I was awful as a nose tackle my freshman, sophomore and junior years. I played cornerback and quarterback in third and fourth grade, then didn’t play from fifth through eighth grade because I hated contact.”
Now, players hate to get hit by Lewan.
He pushes piles when Michigan runs and keeps linemen and linebackers off quarterbacks Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson when they drop back to pass, helping the team average 385 yards of offense this season, which included losing to the top three teams in the AP poll.
Former Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez recruited Lewan out of Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., and redshirted him as a freshman during the 2009 season. Lewan became a starter the next season and will make his make his 28th straight start at left tackle when Michigan plays South Carolina in Tampa, Fla.
Gil Brand, an NFL draft consultant and former Dallas Cowboys general manager, said if Lewan was his son, he’d tell him to come back for another season of college football.
“I think historically, offensive linemen that stay in school seem much better in the NFL,” Brandt said. “Taylor Lewan is a good player that is good enough to come out, but my recommendation to him would be to stay in school to get as much strength and experience as he can get before playing in the NFL.”
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