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UGA lands two blue-chip stars

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

VALDOSTA -- Sorry Alabama, but the Georgia kids are staying home.

Jay Rome, the No. 1 tight end in the nation, and his Valdosta Wildcat teammate Malcolm Mitchell committed to play football at the University of Georgia on Thursday.

Both Wildcats decided to stay in-state and help the Bulldogs rebuild their proud tradition instead of heading across state lines to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

"We've been teammates for about four years now, so I guess three or four more won't hurt," Mitchell said.

Rome traveled to Tallahassee to make a live announcement on ESPNU's Recruiting Insider.

Two hours later, Mitchell announced his intentions to be a Bulldog in front of a packed crowd at Hibachi Grill & Deluxe Buffet in Valdosta and on Talk 92.1 FM.

Rome arrived in time to hear Mitchell become his teammate for another few years. The two embraced shortly after Mitchell put on his matching Bulldog hat.

"Well, to all the Georgia Bulldog fans, I know a lot of you have been heckling me on Facebook every chance you get, so I'm just giving you what you want man. Jay Rome is going to Georgia," Rome said on ESPNU.

Added Mitchell, "I prayed about it and God gave me and answer. I took it."

The two can't officially become Bulldogs until they sign on the dotted line Feb. 2 -- National Signing Day.

"Well, there's been a lot of things going through my head," Rome said. "Alabama is a great school. Coach (Nick) Saban is putting together a good program. He's developing athletes. But I think I'm gonna stay in-state and go to Georgia. Georgia is a great school and has a great football history. People call it Tight End U. At the end of the day, I felt I wanted to stay home, stay in state."

Rome said he was as surprised as anyone that Mitchell chose Georgia. He said Mitchell, whose nickname is "Tampa," had dropped hints to him he was going to choose Alabama.

Mitchell burst onto the national scene as a senior after catching 77 passes for 1,419 yards and 15 touchdowns on his way to being named Region 1-AAAAA Offensive Player of the Year. He said it struck him that UGA was the place for him when he took his official visit in December.

"As I was sitting there, something came across my mind that said, 'This feels right,' " Mitchell said. "That moment ... I said I'm coming to Georgia. Alabama came hard. At one point I thought I was going to go there, but it all came down to what I thought was best for me."

Rome said he had fun with the recruiting process and everyone continually asking him where he was headed. He even revealed to ESPNU that he kept his mom in the dark.

"I kind of played with my mom a little bit," Rome said. "She asked where I was going and I said, 'Oh you'll find out with everybody else.' "

Rome added that he was glad to get the decision over with, while Mitchell embraced the moment. He had his mom come into the restaurant wearing a Florida Gator hat and an orange sweater just to throw everyone off. After his announcement, he stayed behind to pose for pictures and sign autographs.

Valdosta head coach Rance Gillespie was proud of both his star players. Even though Gillespie is a former Georgia player and alum, he said he would have supported Rome and Mitchell whatever they decided.

"You have to remove yourself from all of that stuff," Gillespie said. "I'm a Wildcat, and I'm excited for the Wildcat family that they have two kids who will be able to live the dream that very few kids are able to."

ESPNU ranks UGA as the 12th best recruiting class -- and there is still time for the Dogs to land more big fish. Rome was the ringleader of a group of eight high school players from Georgia at the Under Armour All-American Game, and he supposedly tried to convince the others from Georgia to go to college together and create a "dream team."

Mitchell and Rome are on board at UGA, but Thomas County Central defensive end Ray Drew and Carver-Columbus running back Isaiah Crowell are still out there. Rome looked into the camera and had special message for them: "Isaiah, Ray, come be a Dawg. We can have the dream team and we can do it. Be a Dawg, baby."