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Tulsa Golden Hurricane LB Zaven Collins wins Bronko Nagurski Trophy, declares for NFL draft

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Zaven Collins is a game-changer for Tulsa on and off the field (1:08)

Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins has been a gymnast, valedictorian and perhaps the best defensive player in football this season. (1:08)

Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins has won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy honoring the nation's best defensive player.

The 6-foot-4, 260-pound Collins totaled 54 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss and four interceptions. The junior had three sacks against Oklahoma State. Two of his interceptions were game-clinchers -- a late one against SMU and a 96-yard return for a touchdown against Tulane in overtime.

A day after earning the honor, Collins announced Thursday that he is entering the NFL draft and will not play in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 31.

"In support of my family and my dreams, I would like to announce that I am declaring for the 2021 NFL draft and I am turning my focus towards preparation for this dream," Collins wrote in a tweeted statement that also thanked his coaches and teammates. "I wish all my teammates the best of luck in the Armed Forces Bowl."

Collins is from Hominy, Oklahoma, and played for small Hominy High School. Tulsa gave him his only Division I scholarship offer.

The Football Writers Association of America and the Charlotte Touchdown Club made the announcement Wednesday. The other finalists were Coastal Carolina defensive end Tarron Jackson, Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon, Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II.

Collins was runner-up for the Butkus Award honoring the nation's best linebacker, which went to Owusu-Koramoah.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.