ATHENS, Ga. — Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, two of the top 10 rushers in Georgia football history, are returning for their senior seasons, the players announced Thursday.
The running backs’ decisions – something they insisted would not change before the Jan. 16 NFL draft deadline for underclassmen – provide a big boost to a Georgia offense that will lose three offensive line starters and give the Bulldogs seasoned rushers in the backfield for 2017.
In addition, junior outside linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy also joined Chubb and Michel after coach Kirby Smart’s postpractice news conference to say they are bypassing entering the draft.
Carter and Bellamy share the team lead with four sacks each this season.
The underclassmen decisions give Georgia some much-needed positive vibes after the downbeat feeling of finishing the regular season 7-5 and losing to rival Georgia Tech.
“My mind’s made up and I talked to coach and my family and I no longer need to wait,” Chubb said. “Just go ahead and get it out there.”
Chubb said he made his decision on Saturday.
“My mind was made up I was going to leave but it just didn’t feel right,” Chubb said. “I feel like if I would need to leave, I would feel it and I would be able to accept it and move it. Something kept telling me, ‘Nick, maybe not right now, maybe not the right time.’”
Chubb said he spent late nights thinking and praying about his decision and spoke to close friends.
“It all came back to the kind of person I am to not just leave because things aren’t going your way but to fight through the problems and the adversity and that’s what I feel I did,” he said.
None of the players were considered to go before the third round, but it’s surprising in this day and age when a junior running back with NFL potential doesn’t jump given the short shelf life of players at the position.
As for his own decision, Michel said he made it last week.
“It sat on my heart for about two weeks strong,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve got to make the decision that’s on your heart and not on your mind. You can’t go with everything else that’s going on around you. Sometimes people try to listen and that’s when you make a decision with your mind. I felt like it was the right decision for me to stay. I have so much going for me here at the University of Georgia. I want to enjoy it. I want to finish strong here.”
Chubb is poised to move into No. 2 on the Bulldogs’ all-time rushing list. He has 3,282 rushing yards and needs four more to pass Todd Gurley behind legend Herschel Walker’s 5,259.
Chubb isn’t ruling out making a run at Walker’s record.
“I don’t know, you never know what will happen next year,” Chubb said.
After tearing three knee ligaments against Tennessee in October, 2015, ending his sophomore season, Chubb has rushed for 988 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
He wondered if he should cash in before he may have sustained another injury, but said he told himself he’s not one “to run from any kind of problems.” He also said he is already playing with an insurance policy to protect for the risk of career-ending injury.
His 4.8 yards per carry average is down considerably from 8.1 in 2015 and 7.1 in 2014, but the Bulldogs’ offensive line has been overpowered at times this season.
Michel has rushed for 2,324 yards in three seasons, including 753 this season. He had a career-high 170 yards rushing and a touchdown on 19 carries in the regular season finale against Georgia Tech, a game in which the Bulldogs collapsed in the fourth quarter.
“Walking off the field, I saw this Georgia Tech flag in the middle of our ‘G’ swinging back in forth, it kind of sparked something inside of me that it really hurt and I want to change it and hopefully, I can,” Chubb said.
Bellamy is tied for third on the team with 49 tackles and leads with eight tackles for loss and 15 quarterback pressures.
Carter has 37 tackles, including five for loss with 12 quarterback pressures and is tied for the team lead with two fumble recoveries.
“I think Carter, another year is really going to help him,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper said last week. “With his pass rush ability, he flashed. You can see what he can do off the edge.”
Carter said he considered leaving, “but really all I was thinking about was coming back and being with my brothers and teammates and the young guys. …I wanted something great. I won four state championships in high school and I wanted a ring before I left college and I feel like we can really make that happen.”
Several Georgia underclassmen on defense have been cautious in making the jump in recent years.
All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones and safety Bacarri Rambo were among those who returned in 2012, a year the Bulldogs returned to the SEC championship game. Jordan Jenkins and a draft-eligible Leonard Floyd, both outside linebackers, returned after the 2014 season.
“I got a lot of advice from them through this whole process,” Bellamy said. “A lot of those guys told me, don’t worry about the league. The league is something you can play in, man, but these are the times that you won’t forget.”
Another Georgia junior, safety Dominick Sanders, still has not revealed what his intentions are for the NFL draft.