University of Virginia defensive back Ronde Barber, a first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference selection in each of his first three seasons, announced yesterday he will forgo his final season of eligibility and make himself available in the 1997 NFL draft.

Barber became the third Cavalier in history to leave the team with eligibility remaining. Running back Marcus Wilson and wide receiver Herman Moore both left with one season remaining and were selected in the 1990 and 1991 drafts, respectively. A redshirt junior, Barber is on schedule to graduate before he leaves Virginia.

"I don't think I ever leaned the other direction," Barber said during a teleconference. "From the beginning {of the season}, I knew I was ready to move on. As the season moved on and I wasn't putting up the numbers, there were some doubts, some things that clouded the issue, but I never leaned the other way."

Barber was the ACC's active leader in career interceptions this season with 17. Although he only made three interceptions during this regular season, Barber finished the season by making two in the Cavaliers' loss to Miami in the Carquest Bowl.

"He had a great career here," Virginia Coach George Welsh said. "I was hoping he'd come back and solidify our secondary, but he wanted to give it a shot. He's done a great job here as a player and a student. We couldn't have asked for anything more."

Barber's departure means Virginia will be losing seven starters from a defense that ranked 15th in the nation, allowing 295.5 yards per game -- its best average since 1979.

In addition to advice he received from his mother and twin brother, Virginia running back and 1996 ACC player of the year Tiki Barber, Ronde Barber said his academic standing greatly influenced his decision. He is scheduled to graduate in May with a degree in commerce.