Clifton Geathers sought advice from everyone he could think of, from South Carolina coaches to school administrators to family members, several of whom still are cashing NFL paychecks.
But ultimately the decision to leave USC early and enter the draft was Geathers' - and the 6-foot-8, 281-pounder was ready to go.
"Every thing I did was left up to me," Geathers said this week in a phone interview. "I put my faith in God and went about my way."
Geathers, a defensive end from Georgetown who started one season at USC, will be in Indianapolis this week for the NFL combine. Most draft experts project Geathers as a late-round pick, behind more established ends such as Georgia Tech's Derrick Morgan and Florida's Carlos Dunlap.
But none of the other ends will stack up to Geathers in at least one measurable in Indy.
"I don't look at other defensive ends because, really, I know I'm bigger than all the other defensive ends," Geathers said. (Northwestern's Corey Wootton is 6-7, 280.)
But in the next breath, Geathers conceded his size only would take him so far.
"You can have the great frame, but if you don't have the athletic ability, then you won't make it anywhere," he said.
Geathers is trying to become the fourth member of his family to make it to the NFL as a defensive lineman.
His father, Robert Geathers Sr., was a third-round pick by Buffalo in 1981 before an injury sidetracked his career. His brother, Robert Geathers Jr., is a starting defensive end for Cincinnati preparing for his seventh NFL season.
Jumpy Geathers, Clifton's uncle, posted 62 sacks with four teams during a 13-year NFL career.
Geathers will have to show scouts he can become more consistent with his explosion and pass-rush skills before following in his family's footsteps.
Mike Detillier, a Louisiana-based draft analyst, said Geathers "looks great coming off the team bus" with his towering frame but made surprisingly few plays for the Gamecocks.
"Very inconsistent football player. Not a very technically sound guy. Some games he looks really good, and others he looks rather average," Detillier said. "With somebody that big, that strong, that quick, he should be a dominant player. And he just flashes it."
Suspended for the first game and bothered by blurred vision early last season, Geathers came on strong to finish with 41 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks, doubling his sack total from the previous two seasons.
USC coaches thought Geathers - and the Gamecocks - would have benefited had he returned. Defensive line coach Brad Lawing said Geathers improved more in three years than any player he has coached.
"He was very, very raw when he got here as a freshman," Lawing said. "He was just starting to get a good grasp of how to play the game."
Geathers also sought advice from USC associate athletics director Charles Waddell, who played in the NFL and worked for the Carolina Panthers. Waddell told Geathers he had shown glimpses in 2009 of what he was capable of.
"If you put that together in a solid year next year, I said with his measurables ... he could be a first-rounder," Waddell said. "He could leap-frog over a lot of people."
Waddell said Geathers was concerned about the risk of injury if he returned. Geathers also believes he can enhance his status with a good showing at the combine, although he has no specific goals in mind for the 40-yard dash or other tests.
"If my best is a 4.5 (seconds), then I want to run a 4.5. If my best is a 4.6, then I want to run a 4.6. But I really don't know what it is," Geathers said. "I'm pretty sure I could run a 4.6, but I'm up for whatever. Whatever God gives to me, I'm going to take it."
"I look at myself as a product, a brand (named) Clifton," he said. "And I want to be the top-shelf brand."