Missouri South Carolina Football

Missouri tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (81) warms up before an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina defeated Missouri 37-35. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

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COLUMBIA, MO. • Missouri fans have another year to learn how to say Okwuegbunam. 

Missouri redshirt sophomore tight end Albert Okwuegbunam has decided to return to the Tigers for the 2019 season and pass on entering the NFL draft. He made the announcement Thursday on Twitter. 

"These past 3 years at Mizzou have been the best years of my life," he wrote. "I've made many connections and met people that have positively changed my life forever. Playing with my brothers on the biggest stages in front of amazing fans has been an experience you truly can't put a price on. I wouldn't trade being a Mizzou Tiger for anything and I won't. Can't wait to get back to work. We're coming for it all next season!"

Okweugbunam (pronounced OH-kwu-AYE-boo-NAM) missed the final 4½  games of the 2018 season after suffering a shoulder injury in the first half at Florida on Nov. 3. He still managed to post career-high numbers with 43 catches for 466 yards. He also grabbed six touchdowns, down from 11 during his redshirt freshman season.

The Springfield, Ill., native was a finalist for the Mackey Award for the nation's best tight end despite missing nearly a third of the regular season. 

As of Thursday, 10 underclassmen tight ends had entered the draft pool. Underclassmen have until Monday to enter the draft. 

Okwuegbunam was among Mizzou's five draft-eligible sophomores and juniors who received a draft evaluation from the NFL's College Advisory Committee. Heading into the Dec. 31 Liberty Bowl, Missouri coaches were unsure of the tight end's plans for next year.

“I don’t want to go into making a case for him staying versus going," MU offensive coordinator Derek Dooley said on Dec. 28. "That’s a decision he has to make. I know this: If it were my son there’s certain situations where you’d say, ‘It would be wise for you to go,’ especially if they come back and say you’re a first-round pick. And then there’s situations where if he was my son I’d advise him, ‘You know, you should stay.’"

Earlier this week, Missouri junior running back Damarea Crockett opted to enter the draft instead of returning for his senior season. As of Thursday, he's MU's only underclassman to announce plans to leave school for the draft. The NFL's official tally on Thursday was 111 underclassmen entering the draft, including 28 from SEC teams, led by Florida with five. 

Okwuegbunam's return gives new quarterback Kelly Bryant one of the best targets in the SEC and adds depth and experience to a receiving corps that also returns senior slot receiver Johnathon Johnson plus promising sophomores Jalen Knox and Kam Scott. 

Quick Hits: Matter on Mizzou

Dave Matter

@dave_matter on Twitter


This article originally ran on stltoday.com.