The Virginia Cavaliers would rather not consider the possibility. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks and his father say the decision will remain on hold until after the season.
But amid a highly anticipated season for both the team and the player, the question remains: Will this be Brooks's final season as a collegian? Brooks can enter the April draft because he graduated from Hylton High three years ago before spending the 2002 season at Hargrave Military Academy.
"People have got so much speculation out there about him leaving this year and going," said his father, Perry Brooks, a former Washington Redskins defensive tackle. "Now, if the Washington Redskins came up to him and said he was going to be their first-round draft choice, the second pick in the National Football League? I think we'd have to make that decision then. If they could make that decision for me, I wouldn't have to make it. They say, 'Perry Brooks, we're going to give you $25 million and give Ahmad $2 million,' and I'd say, 'Thanks, Mr. [Dan] Snyder, I'll take that.' "
On talent alone, the speedy 6-foot-4, 250-pounder seems likely to be a first-round pick if he enters the draft, and many outside observers project a strong performance this fall could boost him toward the top of the board.
Perry Brooks said he and his son, who led the team with 117 tackles last season and ranks among the most gifted players in college football, will consult with Cavaliers Coach Al Groh, a 13-year NFL coaching veteran, once the season ends and decide if Ahmad is ready for the professional ranks.
Asked about the NFL after Virginia's season-opening 44-14 win at Temple, Ahmad Brooks said his focus is on this season and on improving as a player.
"I'm still here," Brooks said. "I'm all about school. I still want to get my degree. I'm not even thinking about the NFL right now."
Added Perry Brooks: "We want to let him keep playing and learning the game of football. He's at a great school for linebackers and we're looking for Coach Groh and [inside linebackers] coach [Al] Golden to teach him how to play linebacker. Because he has so much natural ability, he hasn't learned how to play the game."
That juxtaposition of prodigious talent and inexperience was apparent Saturday on Brooks's first two plays at linebacker. On first down, he darted like a jackrabbit down the line of scrimmage, slicing through the mass of bodies flowing toward the ball, and interrupted what looked like a promising run by quarterback Walter Washington after only five yards.
On the next play, though, Washington ran up the middle and Brooks went the wrong way to get around a block, creating a hole the quarterback exploited for 19 yards before a safety dragged him down.
"I missed my read," Brooks explained. "I didn't do the right thing that I was supposed to do. I was kind of mesmerized by [Washington] and I forgot to do what I had to do. I didn't backside fill and he just found a gap and ran through it. That was a mistake on my part."
Brooks admits he is still learning the nuances of playing the most complicated position in Virginia's 3-4 defense. But he's making progress, as evidenced by Groh's willingness to give him added duties that would have been too much for him to handle last season.
Brooks returns kickoffs, plays defensive end on the nickel defense and plays free safety on the goal-line defense. Last year, he lined up at wide receiver for one play in a jump-ball situation at the end of the half.
"I have the ability to do a lot of things," Brooks said. "Really the world hasn't even seen what I can do yet."
That will come eventually, his father said, no matter where Brooks plays in 2005.
"We pray to God he stays healthy," Perry Brooks said. "If he stays healthy, everything else will take care of itself, because he's just a natural, gifted athlete. . . .
"I just want my son to do the right thing as far as staying in school and keep playing football and enjoy himself. Once it's over in college, it's all over. And those are days that you never, ever go back to."
Cavaliers Note: Senior tailback Alvin Pearman shared ACC specialist of the week honors after returning a punt 70 yards for a touchdown Saturday -- Virginia's longest punt return in eight years.