Sankey's father, Chris, confirmed his son's decision in a text message to The Associated Press on Monday after ESPN first reported Sankey was leaving Washington early. Sankey has not yet decided on an agent.
Sankey is coming off the finest season in Washington history, rushing for 1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns in 13 games. He blew past Corey Dillon's school record for yards rushing in a season and set a mark that will be difficult to top. Sankey had 1,775 yards in the 12-game regular season — Dillon had 1,695 in 12 games in 1996 — then added another 95 yards and two touchdowns in Washington's 31-16 win over BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl last Friday.
By leaving Washington early, Sankey is bypassing a chance at becoming the all-time leading rusher in school history. Sankey finished his career with 3,496 yards and would have needed a little more than 600 yards next season to surpass Napoleon Kaufman's school record of 4,106 career yards rushing. Sankey did better one of Kaufman's records, finishing his Washington career with 37 touchdowns rushing in three seasons.
Sankey's numbers are even more impressive considering he barely played as a freshman and wasn't even the clear-cut starter going into his sophomore season. Sankey had just 28 carries during the 2011 season and went into 2012 expected to split time with Jesse Callier. When Callier went down with a knee injury in the season opener, the job became Sankey's and he never gave it up.
Sankey junior season was highlighted by a trio of 200-yard rushing games, including a career-best 241 yards and two touchdowns against California. He ran for 208 yards against Illinois and finished with 200 exactly in the Apple Cup against rival Washington State.
Despite there being a chance to hold every rushing record in Washington history, Sankey was also aware of what happened to his predecessor Chris Polk. Three years ago, Polk was in a similar situation and chose to return for his senior season. He became the No. 2 all-time rusher at Washington with more than 4,000 yards, but also carried the ball 799 times and took a beating in the process. Polk's draft position plummeted as concerns about his shoulders arose and he went undrafted. Polk signed with Philadelphia as a free agent.
Sankey submitted his name to the NFL draft advisory committee and said before the bowl game last week he had received a third-round grade. The last Washington running back drafted was Rashaan Shehee in 1998.
Sankey is the second Washington junior to announce he's leaving school early. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins announced after the bowl game that he was headed to the NFL.