All-America running back Craig (Ironhead) Heyward said yesterday he will skip his last year at the University of Pittsburgh to play in the NFL next season.

"I plan to petition the NFL," Heyward said. "My reasons for doing that {are} being a father and coming from a family of eight -- you know, a low-income family -- so I think the decision that I'm going to make is the decision for me."

Heyward said he has not signed a contract with any agent, although he said he has met with agent Bruce Allen of Phoenix, among others. Heyward had met with Pitt Coach Mike Gottfried earlier in the day. "His decision was to persuade me to come back and to finish the educational part of it and I had my mind made up I wanted to turn pro and he had a somewhat hesitant reaction to it," Heyward said.

"I can't say I'm surprised, but I am disappointed," Gottfried said.

Heyward, a redshirt junior, can't be selected in the regular NFL draft in April because he has college eligibility left and has not graduated, but could petition for a supplemental draft should he forfeit his remaining eligibility.