Oregon coach Mike Bellotti had three meetings with his star defensive tackle after the Sun Bowl, and all three times he got nowhere.

Igor Olshansky's 'mind was pretty made up' about leaving one year early for the NFL draft, says Bellotti, who urged the 6-6, 305-pound strongman to stay in college. He could have been an All-American and first-round pick next year, and the Ducks had high hopes for a defense with Olshansky and Haloti Ngata at tackle again.

Now a huge hole exists, literally and figuratively.

'His decision was a family decision,' Bellotti says. 'He feels he's ready. He has played good football the last couple of years. Plus, he's been told by some agent types that he'd be drafted anywhere from the second to the fourth round.'

Olshansky, in making his announcement Friday, refused to say where NFL consultants had predicted he would be drafted. He wouldn't even reveal whether he had signed with an agent. But he saw Ngata go down with an early-season knee injury and did not want to jeopardize his NFL chances during another year of college ball.

'There's no guarantees, and there's probably no validity in my expectations,' he says. 'My job is to train my best and perform up to my abilities.'

Train he does, as Olshansky shattered UO team records in the bench press, squat, and clean and jerk. Bellotti says Olshansky transformed from a weight-room phenom to a dependable player. And Olshansky, of Ukrainian descent and raised in San Francisco, had played only two years of football before signing with Oregon.

Olshansky might be the strongest man entering the draft, and he has great dexterity after training in martial arts. He played both tackle and end at Oregon. Because NFL teams heavily factor strength, speed and agility into their draft decisions, he should rank high in testing.

'He brought that to the table almost immediately,' Bellotti says. 'What he had to learn was that stopping the guy with the ball was the most important thing, and not necessarily just defeating the guy across from you.'

With the departure of Olshansky and seniors Junior Siavii and Quinn Dorsey, the defensive line looks thin and average. Ngata, who started at tackle in 2002, will return, but he is coming off knee surgery. Robby Valenzuela, a senior-to-be who started nine games this year, also returns at tackle. End Devan Long comes back after notching 11.5 sacks.

Only end/tackle Matt Toeaina and end Chris Solomona return as backups. Both saw limited playing time the past season. Bellotti says the Ducks want to sign four ends and two tackles, and maybe a seventh lineman to replace Olshansky.

He also says the Ducks will enter spring practice with an open mind. The 284-pound Solomona could be tried at tackle, where he played some in junior college. The Ducks expect North Medford High star David Faaeteete to sign with them, and the 6-3, 270-pounder might have enough strength and physical ability to play right away Ñ although he may have to add 15 or 20 pounds. He also can play end.

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