ATHENS — Having lost three key players to the NFL, the Georgia Bulldogs got some good news Thursday: safety Reshad Jones is staying another season.
The sophomore has two years of eligibility remaining, but seriously considered turning pro. After agonizing over his options the past several days, Jones announced he was returning to the Bulldogs.
"I've been thinking about staying at Georgia all along," Jones said. "I sat down and prayed about it, I talked to my family about it, and I just felt comfortable about staying at the University of Georgia and being a Bulldog."
Quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Knowshon Moreno and cornerback Asher Allen had previously announced they would leave Georgia early to enter the draft.
Jones said he might have followed them if the NFL had projected him as a first- or second-round pick, but he declined to go into specifics about the report he got back from the league.
"He's come a long way in growth as a man and a student and an athlete," coach Mark Richt said. "I just think in the final analysis, everybody felt he wasn't quite finished in what he needed to do to be ready for the NFL."
Jones said he was largely influenced by the grandparents who raised him. They both encouraged him to get his degree before he turns pro, a goal he could reach with another season at Georgia.
"I'm so close to graduation," said Jones, who's majoring in housing and consumer economics and can graduate as soon as December. "My grandma and granddad want me to get my degree. That's the most important thing in my college life. I feel I need to come back and get that paper, then I can move on from there."
Jones' decision was a boost to the Bulldogs, who have some key holes to fill on both sides of the line after a season that failed to meet expectations.
Georgia started the season ranked No. 1, only to get routed by Southeastern Conference foes Alabama and Florida and lose to rival Georgia Tech for the first time since 2000. The Bulldogs did finish with a victory over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl, giving them 10 wins for the sixth time in seven years.
As expected, Stafford and Moreno decided to enter the NFL draft. They were Georgia's top offensive players and widely projected to be first-round picks.
Allen's decision was a bit if a surprise, but he said family considerations prompted him to give up his final season with the Bulldogs.
Jones was torn over whether to make similar call. He acknowledged going back-and-forth this week and had trouble sleeping Wednesday night.
But he walked into Richt's office around lunchtime Thursday and said he was staying.
"I want to make my grandma and granddad really proud," he said. "I knew they wanted me to come back. I knew it would make them proud to come back and get this degree."
The Atlanta native was redshirted in 2006 and got extensive playing time as a freshman before becoming a full-time starter at free safety this past season. He led the team with five interceptions and ranked second on the team with 76 tackles, earning second-team honors on The Associated Press All-SEC team.
Jones' return boosts a defense that struggled in Georgia's three losses, giving up more than 40 points in each of them.
"The guy is a great tackler," Richt said. "He's got leadership. These guys respect Reshad. They care what he thinks and want to follow his lead. One of the things I did talk about with Reshad was his ability to take the mantle of leadership. He's excited about that. He knows in order to be a leader, you've got to do it yourself."
Just before announcing his decision in a conference call with the media, Jones was in the weight room.
"He's working his tail off and setting the tone for the defense," an appreciative Richt said.