LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan is putting millions of dollars on hold to chase a Big Ten championship.
The first-team All-American and the league’s offensive lineman of the year is staying for his senior season, turning down a chance to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft and become wealthy as soon as this spring.
“People don’t really understand why I wouldn’t leave for the NFL,” Lewan said Wednesday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press before making his announcement. “But when I came to the University of Michigan, I didn’t understand the tradition of this place, either. Now, I do. In the NFL, you just come and go. But here at Michigan, it’s not like that. I love these guys — my teammates are my best friends — and I want to stay to win Big Ten championships.”
Lewan said his teammates were very surprised he decided to stay.
“The (NFL) advisory board came back and said that I’d be a high first-round pick,” Lewan told the AP. “At first, it was difficult to turn that down. But the most important thing to me is the University of Michigan and winning a Big Ten championship before I leave.”
The Wolverines finished 8-5 last season and 6-2 in the Big Ten, extending a conference championship drought that dates to 2004.
Lewan helped the 24th-ranked Wolverines give up a conference-low 15 sacks.
The 6-foot-8, 309-pound Lewan ended his junior season by preventing South Carolina star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney from making a sack. But Clowney, lined up near Lewan, was left unblocked on a pivotal play in the fourth quarter that helped the Gamecocks beat Michigan 33-28 in the Outback Bowl.
Former Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez recruited Lewan out of Scottsdale, Ariz., and redshirted him as a freshman in 2009. Lewan became a starter the next season and has made 28 straight starts at left tackle.
Lewan’s decision to stay gives Michigan two returning starters on the offensive line to protect Devin Gardner in his first full season as the starting quarterback.
“I have no doubt in my mind this offensive line will be successful,” Lewan said. “That’s one of my biggest reasons to come back, to help these guys.”
The Wolverines will be without departing seniors Denard Robinson and Roy Roundtree on offense. They might also begin next season without running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who broke his left leg in a mid-November game against Iowa.
College football’s winningest program will also have to replace five seniors on defense in 2013, but will get a boost by Lewan’s return.
“We’re excited as a program and a team to have Taylor’s leadership and have him come back to finish his career at Michigan,” coach Brady Hoke said. “We have expectations and that will never change and high expectations that he understands and will help us keep achieving.”
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