Jones Coming Back

ATHENS - First Reshad Jones was staying. Then he was leaving. By Thursday morning, he had no idea what he wanted to do. So in the end, he let the people who have meant the most to him in his life settle things.

The Georgia safety decided Thursday to remain in school for another season to finish his degree, which he is scheduled to earn in December, after a hectic 24 hours of waffling on a decision to enter the NFL draft. He said the decision ultimately came down to accomplishing the dream his grandparents had for him before realizing his own dream of playing in the NFL.

"I'm so close to graduation, that I want to come back and get that paper and move on from there," Jones said. "I feel I'm a student-athlete, and a student first. I knew that they wanted me to come back and that would make them proud to get that degree."

Jones was raised by his grandparents, and he said that their input finally helped put to rest a furious 24 hours of back and forth.

Jones submitted paperwork to the NFL review committee in November, but said at the time that he was definitely returning to school and was simply looking for objective information on his game. He reiterated those claims Tuesday through the school's athletics offices, but backtracked a day later.

Late Wednesday, Jones said he was leaning toward entering the draft, but by Thursday morning, he still hadn't come to a firm conclusion. Thursday was the final day for underclassmen to declare their eligibility for April's NFL draft.

"I was on the fence, on the edge," Jones said. "It was a hard decision to make."

Jones, a third-year sophomore, was the Bulldogs' second leading tackler this season with 76 and recorded a team-high five interceptions.

Jones said he did not want to elaborate on what he was told by the review committee, but said had they told him he would likely have been a first-day pick in the draft, he would have left Georgia for the NFL.

Had Jones defected to the pros, he would have been the fourth Georgia player in eight days to leave early. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno -- both considered likely first-round picks -- held a joint news conference last week to declare their intentions. Cornerback Asher Allen surprised most observers by following suit Tuesday.

Neither Jones nor Allen are expected to be first-day picks in the draft, leaving some to wonder if there was an internal problem that convinced the players to consider leaving early, but head coach Mark Richt said that was not the case.

"There's nothing wrong with Georgia," Richt said. "There's no one unhappy at Georgia. We've got young men that are extremely talented and have an opportunity to realize their dreams in the NFL. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether they like Georgia or not. They love Georgia, and I can guarantee you those guys will be missing it. They're going to be great Bulldogs in life."

Richt spoke with reporters for about 10 minutes following Jones' announcement and seemed defensive at times, even interjecting amid questions to discuss Georgia's academic and on-field accomplishments.

Georgia's team GPA in the fall semester was 2.8, and 55 players had a 3.0 or better, Richt said, adding that he was glad Jones had made academics part of his reason for returning to school.

Richt also added that his team finished 10th in the final USA Today Coaches' poll, winning 10 games for the sixth time in seven years. He said he felt that some media had underplayed the team's success this season.

"We certainly want to finish No. 1 in the country, no doubt, but I thought those were things that were very positive about the program," Richt said.

Jones' decision to return helps Georgia's efforts for another 10-win season in 2009.

Allen and Jones were expected to lead a Georgia secondary that had little starting experience, and had both decided to leave, defensive coordinator Willie Martinez would likely have opened the season with new starters at three of four defensive back positions.

Instead, Jones said he expects the secondary to be a strength for the Bulldogs in 2009.

"I know (Martinez) is going to work his butt off to make sure we're ready to compete," Jones said. "I think we'll bond together and really work and our secondary will be just fine."

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