Orson Charles, Georgia’s All-SEC tight end, will skip his senior season to enter the NFL draft.
Charles revealed the unsurprising decision Wednesday, saying “it’s time to open a new chapter in my life.”
A few hours later, another UGA underclassman who had been seriously considering the draft — safety Bacarri Rambo — made the opposite decision, announcing through the school that he will return for his senior season.
Charles said he consulted with several NFL players and a former NFL coach, Tony Dungy, about his stay-or-go choice. The NFL’s underclassmen advisory committee told Charles that he could be drafted as high as the second round.
The decision wasn’t stressful, Charles said, because “either way I wouldn’t be wrong.” He added: “As I continued to pray about it, I just felt ready.”
The deadline to declare for the draft is Sunday. Charles and Rambo appeared to have the highest draft stock among Georgia players considering early entry, although several others also have said they are weighing decisions.
Rambo’s return is a boon for the Georgia defense. He led the SEC with eight interceptions this past season and was named an Associated Press first-team All-American.
Charles’ departure, combined with the expiration of senior Aron White’s eligibility, means Georgia will head toward the 2012 season without its top two tight ends from last season.
The Bulldogs’ top returners at the position will be junior Arthur Lynch, who has two career catches, and Jay Rome, a highly touted recruit who was redshirted as a freshman last season. Also, Colquitt County tight end Ty Smith has committed to sign with the Bulldogs next month.
“They have a lot of people who can fill the hole at tight end,” Charles said.
Charles was one of two prized recruits, along with quarterback Aaron Murray, who signed with Georgia out of Tampa’s Plant High in 2009. Murray, who unlike Charles was redshirted in his first season at UGA, has two years of eligibility remaining and wished his long-time teammate well.
“The No. 1 thing he said was, ‘Just don’t forget about me,’” Charles said.
“To play [in college] with my high school quarterback was definitely a blessing,” Charles added.
Charles started 29 games for Georgia. He caught 94 passes for 1,370 yards, which set a UGA career yardage record for tight ends, and 10 touchdowns, which tied the school record for the position.
After catching 45 passes for 574 yards and five touchdowns in the 2011 season, he was voted first-team All-SEC by both the coaches and the media. He was chosen first-team All-America by the American Football Coaches Association.
In what proved to be his final college game –-a triple-overtime loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl –- Charles had one catch for two yards. He said that game did not affect his decision to depart.
“I met the majority of all my goals I came here with,” Charles said Wednesday. “I feel like I’ve grown spiritually. . . . I feel like I’ve grown as a player.
“I was going back and remembering some of the goals I came in [with], and today I was checking them all off, like, ‘Yeah, I accomplished this.’ The past three years have just been a blessing. They’ve been awesome.”
The 6-foot-3, 241-pound Charles is ranked as the third best tight end in this year’s draft by nfldraftscout.com, behind Clemson’s Dwayne Allen and Stanford’s Coby Fleener.