No Rest for Rome

ATHENS - Jay Rome has yet to score a touchdown at the college level, but when he eventually does he has something special planned.

Rome, who redshirted as a freshman in 2011 and is currently playing basketball, has conjured up a way to pay homage to both sports if and when he finds the end zone next season.

"He's promised me he'll dunk a ball over the goal post if he scores a touchdown," basketball coach Mark Fox said. "I said, 'That's great, except that you'll get a penalty and (football) coach (Mark) Richt will be beating my door down.' We're going to nix that plan."

OK, so the celebration is more of a joke or wish.

But Rome, who has trimmed down to 252 pounds in the month since joining the basketball squad, says there are other ways to incorporate positives from and to each sport.

"I know I'm quicker than I was," Rome said. "I'm a lot more explosive. I'm dunking the ball with no problems. I know it's going to transfer over to the football field just being faster, quicker out of my breaks, quicker out of my cuts, footwork, my blocks and if the ball is a little high I believe I can go up and get it over anybody."

Playing two sports in college isn't easy, but it's also not unprecedented -- even at Georgia. Many athletes in Athens have played on more than one team, but usually track is the chosen add-on (Herschel Walker, Geno Atkins and currently Justin Scott-Wesley to name a few). Former wide receiver Fred Gibson was the last football-basketball combo, but his contribution on the hardwood was limited due to the overlapping schedules and time demands.

Rome has appeared in three games thus far and has been a big help in practice, according to Fox. Being a football player and given his 6-6 frame, physical play on the court would be an easy assumption regarding Rome. While that may be the case, he's worth more than five fouls and tough defense, Fox said.

"He just sees schemes so much better than a lot of guys, and maybe that's his football background," Fox said. "He's very bright."

There's something about tight ends and basketball that mesh. The NFL is littered with jumbo pass-catchers that played both sports in college. Some played only basketball before finding a home in the NFL -- a remarkable feat.

Tony Gonzalez, mostly considered as the best tight end to ever play in the NFL, hooped at Cal.

San Diego's Antonio Gates played only basketball at Kent State and went undrafted in the NFL before becoming an eight-time Pro Bowl Selection.

In the same fashion, New Orleans' Jimmy Graham had 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011 after playing only basketball at Miami from 2006-09.

Rome appears fairly realistic about his basketball potential -- football is where his long-term future is. But as a first-year college student juggling two very demanding activities on top of classwork, Rome sees more than athletic advantages to partaking in both.

"I've just been having a fantastic time getting to know the guys on the football team and now being able to bond with some of the guys on the basketball team," the Valdosta native said. "I just feel like I'm making a lot of good friendships that will last for a lifetime."

Currently, Rome is 100 percent a basketball player. He's not working out with his football teammates and doesn't plan to move from his locker in Stegeman Coliseum back over to Butts-Mehre until March.

With three-year starter Orson Charles turning pro, Rome could be on the verge of playing an important role in 2012. He'll be at worst second on the depth chart when spring practice begins in April. And he's talented enough to fight for the starting job with rising junior Arthur Lynch.

"Once basketball is over with I'm jumping straight back into football with weight lifting," Rome said. "I'm going to hit the weight room really hard and try to put back on in muscle and get back up in weight the right way, but still keep the athleticism from playing basketball."

That's the plan for now -- take the best of both worlds and have some fun along the way.

And to keep the dunking as far away from touchdown celebrations as possible.

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