Gophers tight end Maxx Williams made it official Friday, announcing his widely expected decision to leave early and enter the NFL Draft.

Williams, a third-year sophomore, is the first Gophers football player to leave school early for the NFL Draft since Laurence Maroney, who was a first-round pick (No. 21 overall) by the Patriots in 2006.

The news on Williams comes one day after he put together another signature performance in the Citrus Bowl. Missouri defeated the Gophers 33-17, but Williams had seven catches for 98 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown that came after he hurdled over two defenders.

After the game, Williams said he planned to discuss his decision with his family before making the announcement. His father, Brian, was a center for the Gophers and a first-round pick by the Giants who went on to play 11 years in the NFL.

Maxx Williams was named the Big Ten’s Tight End of the Year, and was a second-team All-American selection by the Associated Press. He led the Gophers with 36 receptions for 569 yards and eight touchdowns. The eight touchdowns were a school record for a Gophers tight end.

Williams could be the first tight end picked in this year’s draft, possibly in the first round.

What now for the Gophers?

Replacing Williams won’t be easy for the Gophers, but they should be fairly deep next year at the H-slot, which is designed for speedy, pass-catching tight ends.

Duke Anyanwu, who tore an ACL on the second day of preseason camp, will be back, and he was expected to be the No. 2 at that position behind Williams this year. Brandon Lingen gained experience as a true freshman, and the Gophers really like Jerry Gibson, a tight end/wide receiver who redshirted this year.

“We appreciate all that Maxx and his family have done for the program,” coach Jerry Kill said in a statement. “They are great people and we wish nothing but the best for Maxx as he begins his professional career. Maxx has been an integral part in laying the foundation for our program and has helped move our team forward.”