May 25, 2011

Big shoes to fill

Jay Rome's motivation to succeed at the University of Georgia is a little hard for the Valdosta native to put into words.

Unless you've walked in his shoes, it's a bit difficult to explain.

But after you realize his dad is one of the greatest high school players in state history, it becomes simpler to understand.

"Because of my dad and my uncle - everybody knows who my dad (Stan Rome) and uncle (Roger Rome) is in Valdosta. Not just Valdosta, but the entire state of Georgia, everyone knows who you're talking about," Jay Rome said Wednesday in a telephone interview with UGASports. "But it drives me. I don't want anybody to say, 'he's not as good as his daddy was.' I want to be better than my daddy was. I want to be more versatile. That's what drives me everyday."

Stan Rome's legacy - both on the basketball court and the football field - has driven his son from the very beginning.

Playing for the late VHS coaching legend Wright Bazemore, the elder Rome was an unquestioned star, grabbing 72 passes for 1,583 yards and 20 touchdowns, a mark that stood as the state record for a number of years.

Following his career with the Wildcats, Stan Rome went on to star at Clemson before a four-year career in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Don't get the incoming Bulldog freshman wrong. The bond he enjoys with his father could not be any greater. It's just when you're the son of Stan Rome, certain expectations are with you every day.

"Because everybody knew who I was and everything, I've been expected to do great things, with little room for error," Jay Rome said. "I can say it made me the player that I am today, because if I mess up I know everyone will be on my case just because of how great my dad was."

The younger Rome hasn't been bad himself.

As a senior, Rome starred on both the basketball court and the football field for Valdosta, helping to lead the Wildcats to the semifinal round of the Class AAAAA basketball playoffs.

But Rome's basketball days are apparently over.

Despite averaging well over 20 points per game, the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder said Tuesday he's taken his last jumpshot.

"I'm just going to play football when I get up there," said Rome, who arrives in Athens on June 5. "I know there were some rumors about me playing (basketball at Georgia) after I led Valdosta to the Final Four. A lot of the Atlanta teams didn't think we could play basketball, we wanted to make a statement."

The only statement Rome cares about making now is on the football field, where he says he's looking forward to playing with incumbent tight end Orson Charles, someone he's always admired.

"Even before I knew I was going to Georgia, I thought he was a great tight end and I aspired to be like him," Rome said. "But once I knew that I was going to play with him, it really got me excited. He's a great guy, down to earth. I'm looking forward to learning from him."

Of course, Rome won't be the only former Wildcat to wear the red and black come fall.

Former teammate Mike Gilliard is currently a junior linebacker for the Bulldogs, while fellow freshman Malcolm Mitchell is another budding star Georgia coaches are hoping can make an impact at wide receiver.

Oddly enough, Rome said he initially didn't know if Mitchell would join him in Athens or not.

"Malcolm was the biggest surprise of all because we all thought he was headed to Alabama," Rome said. "He had me fooled like everyone else. I found out like everyone else did. I had rushed back from Tallahassee where I was announcing, got to his (announcement party) all decked out in my Georgia gear and crossing my fingers. When he said he was going to Georgia, I was stunned like everyone else."

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