After exploring his NFL draft possibilities, Dan Connor, a second-team Associated Press all-American linebacker from Strath Haven High School, announced yesterday that he will return to Penn State for his final season of eligibility.

"We gave it some thought and explored options, but it wasn't what I wanted right now," Connor said in a university news release. "This team is very close to getting some things done, and I want to help make it happen. If things work out right, the NFL opportunity will be there. You're only a college senior once. I'm looking forward to next season."

Connor had filed paperwork with the NFL Draft Advisory Board to get an idea of how high or low he might be selected. The Web site predicted that Connor would be the top outside linebacker in next year's draft if he returned for his senior season.

Connor's decision is welcome news for the Nittany Lions, who lose first-team all-American linebacker Paul Posluszny, tackle Jay Alford and end Tim Shaw from a defense that finished in the top 15 nationally in four statistical categories and led Penn State to a 9-4 record, including a 20-10 win over Tennessee in the Outback Bowl.

Penn State will have 15 starters returning next season.

Connor and Posluszny, two-time winner of the Bednarik Award, were regarded as one of the top linebacker twosomes in the country. One of three finalists for the Bednarik Award, presented by the Maxwell Football Club of Philadelphia, and a starter for the last 20 games, Connor was second on the team to Posluszny (116) with 113 tackles.

The only other time Penn State had two defenders with more than 100 tackles in a season was 1989, when linebacker Andre Collins, of Cinnaminson, Burlington County, had 130 and Brian Chizmar 110. The school began compiling tackle statistics in 1969.

A native of Wallingford, the 6-3, 225-pound Connor also had nine tackles for losses and five sacks. He ranked fifth in the Big Ten Conference in tackles and was named first-team all-American by Sporting News. He became the 13th Penn State linebacker to be selected to an all-American first team.

Connor, 21, led Penn State with three forced fumbles and had two interceptions. He also had a safety in the win over Illinois.

Connor's career at Penn State hasn't been free of controversy. At the start of his sophomore year, he and some teammates were suspended by Paterno for making prank phone calls to a former assistant coach.

Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo

at 215-854-2743