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November 28, 2004S.C. ATH CJ Byrd (6-3, 189, 4.37), who is considered one of the nation's top prospects with 33 scholarship offers, committed to the University of Georgia on Saturday.
The player affectionately called "Big Byrd" because of his lanky stature and good-natured personality picked the Bulldogs over Clemson, Southern Cal and Florida State. He broke the news to Georgia coach Mark Richt at Saturday's game against Georgia Tech.
"Georgia just feels like home," Byrd said. "All the schools were great. I just felt like I fit in at Georgia the best. I love Georgia because of Coach Richt and what he stands for. I love Georgia because they compete for national championships. I love Georgia because it is located only 100 miles from North Augusta, meaning my friends and family can come to the games."
Byrd said he felt like Saturday was the right time to make the decision.
"I have been visiting colleges all around the country since last spring," Byrd said. "My family and I had gathered more than enough information to make the best decision possible.
"There was no need to wait any longer. My family and I had been talking about doing this for a long time, and we felt like it was finally time to speak up.
"It wasn't important to me to let this all play out until signing day. My mind wasn't going to change. Georgia was No. 1 all along. By going ahead and making my choice public, the other schools can completely focus on other players."
Byrd is ninth player in the last four years to land a major-college scholarship, which nearly doubles the amount of any other school in South Carolina over the same period. Byrd's teammate, WR Justin Wheeler, has committed to Vanderbilt.
"Georgia is getting the total package in CJ Byrd," North Augusta coach Joe Long said. "He is a dynamite football player and one great human being. I can't say enough good things about this young man."
Byrd was a three-year starter at North Augusta, playing both wide receiver and safety. At Georgia, Byrd will play safety. He had a banner year at safety for North Augusta, registering 76 tackles and two interceptions in only seven games on defense (played offense only in the other four because of high ankle sprain).
"Some schools wanted me at wide receiver and others liked at me at safety. Defense is just fine with me. I've played defense my whole life, and on offense for only the last two years. I love the contact on defense and making the big hit that can change a game around."
The Bulldogs have pulled off a major coup by landing Byrd over the in-state schools. One of Byrd's best friends is former North Augusta standout and Clemson tailback Reggie Merriweather. Steve Spurrier took over at South Carolina last week and was expected to make a run at Byrd.
"I think Clemson and South Carolina are great schools, but I just felt like Georgia was a better fit for me," Byrd said. "Clemson really did an outstanding job recruiting me. They were one of the biggest surprises of entire recruiting process."
Byrd was picked to play for South Carolina in the Shrine Bowl high school all-star game. He has already met college entrance requirements with an 3.4 GPA and 890 SAT score.
"It was fun going through all the recruiting," Byrd said. "I got to meet a lot of people and visit many parts of the country. It will seem weird that it is all over, but I am absolutely thrilled about playing for Georgia. I'm glad the way everything worked out."
North Augusta's other major-college signings in recent years are Wheeler with Vanderbilt, QB Brandon Satcher with Hawaii, WR Andre Young with Illinois, LB Brandon Thomas with Ole Miss, OL Evan Williams with Army, TE Frayne Abernathy with Northwestern, DB Richie Williams with Iowa and Merriweather with Clemson.
North Augusta junior LB-S Marcus Jackson (6-0, 200) has made unofficial visits recently to Georgia and Auburn. He is already being touted as one of the state's top prospects for next year.