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Auburn’s Fairley entering NFL Draft

January 15, 2011

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— Nick Fairley, Auburn’s other big-name star, also is heading to the NFL after winning the Lombardi Award and helping Cam Newton lead the Tigers to a national title.

The potential No. 1 overall pick announced his decision Friday at his old high school, saying he didn’t make up his mind until that morning after long talks with his coaches and his parents and a solitary drive around his hometown. The deciding factor?

“I was thinking, ‘What more could I accomplish my senior year?”’ Fairley said.

In other NFL Draft news:

— As expected, Washington running back Chris Polk will return to the Huskies for his junior season.

— Florida safety Will Hill is leaving school a year early to enter the NFL Draft.

College football

QB Keenum granted 6th year

Houston — The NCAA has granted a sixth year of eligibility to Houston quarterback Case Keenum, who missed the final nine games of the 2010 season with a torn knee ligament.

Big Ten to test names

Park Ridge, Ill. — Legends and Leaders, the names for the Big Ten’s two new divisions, are sticking around. At least through next football season.

Big Ten chief communications officer Diane Dietz said Friday that the league will do market research during the 2011 season to see how the names play out.

Rodriguez donates U-M garb

Wayne, Mich. — Fired Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez has turned out to be a Michigan man after all, donating 12 bags of Wolverines apparel to a Detroit-area Salvation Army store aimed at helping people in need.

Maj. John Aren tells the Detroit Free Press that Rodriguez delivered 432 items to the store in Wayne, about 15 miles west-southwest of Detroit, less than one week after his ouster.

QB Brantley staying at Florida

Gainesville, Fla. — Once Florida hired offensive coordinator Charlie Weis to run a pro-style offense, John Brantley’s decision became clear. Brantley, mostly ineffective in Florida’s spread system, chose Friday to stay in Gainesville and finish his college career with the Gators.

Tulsa promotes Blankenship

Tulsa, Okla. — Tulsa has promoted assistant Bill Blankenship to become its head football coach.

Athletic director Bubba Cunningham made the announcement Friday, saying the 54-year-old Blankenship is “a leader and a proven winner.” Blankenship is replacing his former boss, Todd Graham, who now is Pittsburgh’s coach.

MLB

Twins, Thome agree to 1-year deal

Minneapolis — Jim Thome didn’t need much time to determine he wanted to return for a 21st season. His back felt fine, and after 25 home runs in 276 at-bats for Minnesota last year, his powerful uppercut swing was sure in prime form.

“I still felt like, ’Man, I can still do this,”’ said Thome, who decided about a month after last season to keep his career going.

Thome and the Twins agreed Friday to a $3 million, one-year contract, doubling his salary after he provided a big lift last season.

In other baseball news:

— The Oakland Athletics have agreed to terms with free agent right-handed reliever Grant Balfour on an $8.1 million, two-year deal.

— The Detroit Tigers have agreed to a $1.4 million, one-year contract with reliever Joel Zumaya, a raise of $485,000.

NFL

Falcons CB Williams doubtful

Atlanta — Atlanta Falcons cornerback Brian Williams is listed as doubtful with an injured left knee for Saturday’s NFC divisional game against Green Bay.

In other playoff news:

— Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu went through a practice without helmets or pads, but has still not been cleared to play Sunday against Chicago in the NFC divisional playoff.

Golf

Appleby in lead at Sony

Honolulu — The Sony Open took a while to get started.

So did Stuart Appleby. Appleby was humming along Friday on rain-soaked Waialae Country Club, no bogeys on his cards but not many birdies, either. That changed when he holed a 163-yard shot from the fairway and a 35-foot putt on the next green to finish with a 6-under 64.

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