By RUSTY MILLER, AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Not until Mike Doss stepped to the podium did he decide that he would return to Ohio State for his senior season.
The third-team All-American strong safety broke down continually and almost choked out his words during a news conference Wednesday.
"You can say you watched me decide," he told reporters.
So after losing two underclassmen who elected to make themselves available for the draft, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel will have his best defensive player returning for the 2002 season.
Tressel had last spoken to Doss on Thursday. Tressel was in San Antonio at a coaches convention and was not aware of what Doss had decided until an Ohio State spokesman called Tressel's wife after the news conference and asked her to relay the good news.
Cornerback Derek Ross and tight end Darnell Sanders, both juniors, had already declared themselves available for the April 20-21 NFL draft.
Doss said that pro scouts had told him he would be taken in the second round at best and could drop to the third round. He did not say if that influenced his decision.
"My mother told me -- living in a two-bedroom apartment with nothing, nothing to survive on but her son -- my mother told me to get my education, and I will be returning back to Ohio State," Doss said, pausing frequently to dry his eyes and collect his thoughts.
Asked if he was positive of his decision when he walked into the room, Doss said, "I was positive that I did not know what I was going to say."
He said that he had spoken to his mother an hour earlier and then had driven to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. With his Bible in his lap, he sat in his car watching reporters arrive for his announcement.
"I held my thoughts to myself after I spoke with my mother," he said.
Doss had 87 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions and four fumble recoveries this season. In 2000, he had a team-high 94 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
Ohio State defensive backs coach Mel Tucker spoke to Doss several times after Ohio State lost to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day.
"I was not sure what he was going to do," Tucker said. "He seemed to be emotional about it. It was a big decision for him. He did what he thought was the right thing to do."
Doss said at the end of the regular season that he was leaning toward leaving early.
"My first thought was, 'There it is. Go.' That was my first thought, to make the jump," he said. "You're watching all your teammates from past years -- Ahmed Plummer, Nate Clements, Na'il Diggs, Ryan Pickett, Joe Montgomery -- all of those guys are playing in the NFL.
"I knew I could I play at the highest level of competition. But at the same time, I had to think about staying in school and getting an education and worrying about my future."
Doss, whose major is communications, said that the ordeal would help him down the road.
"Twenty years from now, I won't be playing football," he told reporters. "I hope to have your job, asking some junior at Ohio State what he decides."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)