Draft will feature 56 nonseniors

Cam Newton and Nick Fairley of national champion Auburn are among 56 nonseniors who applied for April’s NFL Draft — a record total but only three more than last year.

The uncertainty surrounding the league’s labor situation does not appear to have had a significant effect on underclassmen declaring for the draft. The NFL released the list Wednesday, and it’s the fifth time in seven years that more than 50 players were granted what the league calls “special eligibility.”

The previous high was 53 players in 2010 and 2008; there were 52 in 2006 and 51 in 2005.

Newton, a quarterback, and Fairley, a defensive tackle, are joined by three other All-American juniors heading to the draft: Kentucky receiver-returner Randall Cobb, Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers and Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson.

The most notable player to announce on Wednesday his decision to go pro was Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget, who is projected as a possible first-round pick.

Most underclassmen who were deciding whether to enter the draft had made their choices public by Saturday’s deadline to tell the NFL they wanted to leave school early. Players then had 72 hours to withdraw their names.

■ UNLV — Wide receiver Devante Davis, rated by Rivals.com and Scout.com as a three-star prospect, committed to UNLV.

Davis (6 feet 3 inches, 195 pounds) chose the Rebels’ football team over Texas A&M, which offered him a track scholarship. He was Texas’ Class 5A champion last year in the triple jump.

The chance to play early appealed to Davis, who attends Houston’s North Shore High School. He is a longtime friend of UNLV running back Tim Cornett, also a North Shore product.

“He hosted me on the visit,” Davis said. “He said, ‘You’ve got to step up and play here.'”

Also, former UNLV offensive lineman John Gianninoto will play in Sunday’s Eastham Energy College All-Star Game at Tempe, Ariz.

■ TEXAS — The school, which already has one of the wealthiest athletic programs in the country, is lining up for even more money.

Texas and ESPN announced a 20-year, $300 million deal for a 24-hour TV network that will broadcast Longhorns sports, including at least one football game and eight basketball games per season, and other sports and academic content.

■ AUBURN — Quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton was named the winner of the 2010 Manning Award.

The award is voted on by a panel of national media and presented by the Sugar Bowl to the nation’s top quarterback.

■ MONTANA STATE — Offensive lineman Alex Eekhoff of Reno verbally committed to Montana State, opting against UNLV, UNR and Montana.

The 6-7 Eekhoff, of Bishop Manogue High School, said UNR wanted him to grayshirt, meaning he wouldn’t report to the team until January 2012, and UNLV “didn’t feel like a college atmosphere.”

■ MOUNTAIN WEST — The Mountain West Conference is planning to play eight league games in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. That means schools in what will be a 10-team league will skip a conference opponent, and UNLV will need to fill a hole on its schedule each of those seasons.

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