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UGA Freshman Tight End Jay Rome in ESPN The Magazine

The current issue of ESPN the Magazine has a nice piece on incoming freshman tight end Jay Rome out of Valdosta, as well as his father, former Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Stan Rome. From the story:

At 6'6" and 250 pounds, Jay, an honor student with premed ambitions and the yes-sir, no-sir demeanor still standard in this part of the world, was courted by some of college football's best - Alabama, Notre Dame, Florida, Michigan - before deciding to stay home and become a tight end for the Bulldogs.

But none of that matters to Jay Rome on this lousy night. It's his final game for Valdosta, the winningest high school football program in the United States, with six national championships and 40 regional championships to round out those 23 state trophies. Teams here have won so often, for so long, that Valdosta could lose every game for the next 65 seasons and still stay above .500. Wherever a Wildcat goes on to play - and a dozen have played on Sundays in the League - wearing the black and gold remains as good as it gets. Just not tonight.

"It hurts. I know it hurts," Stan Rome tells Jay, one arm draped over his shoulder. The man who long ago epitomized what it takes to play and win on this rarified landscape, who had been left for dead, stands on the sideline, consoling his son. Then Stan lights up. "That pass you caught, all that spinning and turning," he says, referring to one of Valdosta's few highlights. "You looked like - me." A quick smile creases Jay's face. "Now go out and shake hands," Stan tells him, clapping his son's pads. "Show some sportsmanship."

In a team photo from 1971, the young Stan Rome, almost a head taller than everyone else, is a dead ringer for Jay: same alert eyes, same soft, open face, same sure-of-himself posture. Even the number 11. These days, however, Stan's body is bent; he stands almost a head shorter than his teenage son. The [drug] dealer's bullet left one side of his face partially paralyzed. His voice sometimes catches on a word, like a needle stuck on scratched vinyl. A constant reminder for Jay, now beginning his workouts in Athens, Ga, of the traps and temptations that lie ahead.

That's why no one is a closer reader of the Stan Rome story than 18-year-old Jay. In a region where football is king, the Rome name is royalty. Old-timers often look at Jay and see "the Stan we knew when he played for the Wildcats," says longtime Touchdown Club board member David Waller, who has missed just five Valdosta games since 1947. "But I think his daddy is going to be awfully cautious with Jay. He knows what can happen to anybody"...

"Knowing what my dad's been through, his upbringing and everything, it tells me anything is possible," Jay says. "He's teaching me from his mistakes. I know everything he went through made him a better man, and him being a better man is making me better."

It's well worth a read, and signals Jay Rome as someone Bulldog Nation can look upon with great interest and pride in the coming seasons.

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