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(Reuters) - Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback whose off-the-field issues have cast a shadow over his accomplishments as a player, said on Wednesday he will leave Florida State University and enter the NFL draft.
Many experts have ranked Winston, a redshirt sophomore, among the top two quarterbacks potentially available in the draft, along with Oregon's Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner.
But there have been mounting questions about Winston's character following a rape allegation that did not lead to criminal charges, a shoplifting incident and behavior issues on campus.
"After weighing this decision with my family and friends, I have decided to declare for the 2015 NFL draft and forgo my remaining eligibility at Florida State," Winston said in a statement.
"I reached this very difficult decision after careful consideration and long thought, realizing how difficult it would be to say goodbye to my family at Florida State."
Winston, 21, initially had planned to wait until after the college football national championship game on Monday to announce a decision on whether to enter the April 30-May 2 draft. The National Football League's deadline for underclassmen to declare their intentions is Jan. 15.
Winston's playing career has been marred by off-field incidents. Aside from the rape allegation, he was given a one-game suspension for yelling a vulgar phrase in an on-campus dining area and was cited for shoplifting crab legs from a supermarket.
The woman who accused Winston of rape filed a federal civil lawsuit against Florida State's trustees on Wednesday, accusing the school of refusing to properly investigate the incident.
Listed as Jane Doe in the complaint, the woman said she was raped by Winston at his off-campus apartment in 2012 but Winston has maintained that the sexual encounter was consensual.
The state attorney’s office did not charge Winston with a crime and former Florida Supreme Court chief justice Major Harding determined last month there was not enough evidence to indicate Winston violated the university's student code of conduct.
"After a year of selective news leaks and distorted coverage, Florida State looks forward to addressing these meritless allegations in court," the university's president, John Thrasher, said in a statement.
Winston led Florida State to a 14-0 record and the national championship in the 2013 season. This season, the Seminoles were 13-1, losing to Oregon, 59-20, in the national semifinals.
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Will Dunham