CLEMSON — Vic Beasley couldn’t attack the decision the way he bull-rushes offensive linemen. This was the biggest decision of his young life, and he couldn’t hurry it along.

In the end, delaying his professional dreams for one more year was no deterrent, given how close Beasley is to becoming a college graduate and potential first-round NFL draft selection.

“It was just hard for me to leave Clemson University without my degree,” Beasley told reporters Friday, “and not being the best player I know I can be.”

The first-team All-American defensive end announced Wednesday he would return to Clemson for his senior year, rather than go pro. He was projected as a second-round pick, which likely would have meant a million-dollar contract.

Had Beasley declared for the draft, as did teammates Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Bashaud Breeland, he would be 25 credit hours short of his diploma.

Beasley is taking 15 credits this spring, which means he’ll have a lighter load in the fall. He is on track to graduate in December with a degree in sociology. Then he will focus on training and preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine and 2015 NFL Draft.

On the field immediately after Clemson’s 40-35 victory over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, Beasley seemed to know his future plans, saying he would make an announcement soon. But that wasn’t the case. He spent all 12 days allotted to him to make a decision.

“Nothing really changed. I was still really 50-50 going into the bowl game and after the bowl game,” Beasley said. “I literally made my decision Wednesday night.”

Beasley said his parents left the decision to him. He did acknowledge a conversation with head coach Dabo Swinney helped him decide to stay in school.

“I talked to coach Swinney, and he gave me a familiar story that was similar to mine, with C.J. Spiller,” Beasley said, noting the former Clemson tailback who returned for his senior year in 2009.

“It kind of influenced me a little bit. But at the end of the day, I made my decision based on getting my degree and what was best for me and my family.”

Beasley has 21 career sacks, which means he needs seven to equal Michael Dean Perry and Gaines Adams for the school record. His 23 tackles for a loss led the Tigers, who finished with 122 as a team.

“Definitely, that’s our goal to be the best in the nation,” Beasley said. “We led the country in tackles for loss, so we plan to do that again next year.”

The entire defensive line returns with Beasley, including defensive ends Corey Crawford and Shaq Lawson, along with defensive tackles Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams and Josh Watson.

“I feel like the whole D-line will take a leadership role,” Beasley said. “(Next year) can be even more special. I know they’re probably going to double-team me a lot, but I feel like with the other guys on my side of the ball, Corey, Grady, those guys will draw attention too.”

Clemson appears to have shifted to a defense-first mindset as a team. The Tigers vaulted from No. 64 in 2012 to No. 24 this fall in total defense.

“It feels like the weight is off our shoulders. We know a lot of expectations are going into this next year,” Beasley said. “But we made a statement in college football and we plan to make it again.”