Draft prospects face decision of whether to play in bowl games

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Bryce Hall is coming off an All-American regular season for Virginia at cornerback. At South Carolina, the offense included an All-SEC performance from wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

Samuel and the Gamecocks finished the regular season third in the SEC in pass offense, averaging 277.4 yards per game. Hall was part of a UVA defense that gave up just 180.1 passing yards per game, which ranked second in the ACC this season.

But fans won't get to see those two matched up later this month in Charlotte in the Belk Bowl, when UVA faces the Gamecocks. Samuel announced earlier this month that he will skip the game to focus on preparing for the NFL Draft.

Hall is disappointed he won't get to see No. 1 at Bank of America Stadium.

"As a competitor, you want to go against the best," Hall said this week. "I understand where he's coming from. But me as a person, I would love to go against him and compete against the best."

Samuel led the Gamecocks with 62 catches for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns during the regular season. He also averaged 24.8 yards on 23 kickoff returns. This postseason, Samuel has been named first-team All-SEC as both an all-purpose player and a return specialist and second-team all-conference as a receiver -- and a first-team All-American as an all-purpose performer by the AFCA, and second-team All-American as a kick returner by the FWAA.

"That's a young man's decision, and certainly we're going to respect that," South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said at Thursday's Belk Bowl coaches press conference in Charlotte. "One of the things we've talked to him about, coming back for his senior year was, you need to be healthy. You need to show to show them that you can be healthy for an entire season, and he's done that."

Samuel is part of the recent trend of prospects skipping bowl games with an eye on the NFL Draft. It started two years ago with high-profile running backs Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffery. The list of players passing on bowl game appearances this postseason includes West Virginia quarterback Will Grier, LSU cornerback Greedy Williams, and defensive linemen Ed Oliver of Houston and Rashan Gary of Michigan.

A first-team All-ACC cornerback, UVA's Hall has been named a second-team All-American by both the FWAA and the Walter Camp Foundation. Hall leads the country with 20 pass breakups, and his 22 passes defended ranks second in the nation. He also finished the regular season with 59 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

Hall has been projected as a potential early-round draft pick if he leaves Virginia following his junior season. But Hall said this week that he's pushing that talk aside.

"Right now, I'm just solely focused on South Carolina, developing the best I can as a player. That kind of stuff tends to take away from what we're building to as a team," Hall said. "I like the receivers they got. They've got a good offense, they've got a good quarterback. So it's really going to test us as a secondary."

In Charlotte on Thursday, UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall said he'd support a player who wanted to forgo a bowl game to focus on the NFL Draft. But Mendenhall also believes the trend is an extension of college coaches jumping to new jobs, and missing bowl games with their former teams.

"If a coach leaves to take another job, I think that sets the standard maybe for players then saying, 'Well then maybe I can move on as well,'" said Mendenhall, who coached BYU in the 2016 Las Vegas Bowl after taking the head coaching job at UVA. "As coaches, it would make sense to us and to me, to stay with our team all the way through a game."

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