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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Justin Houston declares for the NFL draft

Justin Houston took his decision right up to the deadline, but the Georgia linebacker still made the decision most expected: He will enter the NFL draft and bypass his senior year.

Houston’s decision was announced early Saturday evening by Georgia.

Here is the statement by Houston, per a UGA release:

“I want to thank the University of Georgia and the coaches for giving me the chance to come to UGA. Without Coach Mark Richt, I would not be where I am today. He has helped me grow from a boy to a grown man during my four years. It was a very hard decision to make but in the end, I had to do what’s best for my family and me. Thanks to all of the fans who were behind us the whole time I was in Athens.”

Here is the statement by head coach Mark Richt:

“Justin is a great person and great player and we’ll miss him. He’s been an integral part of our team the past three years. We wish him nothing but the best as he moves into this next phase of his football career and I’m certain he’ll be successful.”

The news means Georgia lost two players early to the NFL draft: Star receiver A.J. Green declared on Sunday, and is expected to be one of the top picks in the draft.

As for Houston, his status is a bit more unknown. Listed at 6-foot-3, 258 pounds, he could play outside linebacker or defensive end in the NFL. He will likely be eyed by teams that run a 3-4 defense, since he flourished in that system in 2010 at Georgia.

Georgia will now be without its two top playmakers from a defense that finished the season ranked fourth in the SEC in total defense and seventh in scoring defense. Inside linebacker Akeem Dent, who led the team in tackles, was a senior.

The Bulldogs also lost outside linebacker Darryl Gamble, who started eight games. Inside linebacker Marcus Dowtin, who was fourth on the team in tackles, has been given his release to transfer.

Houston finished the regular season as the SEC’s leader in sacks, with 10. He was a first-team All-SEC pick by the AP and the coaches, and was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski and Butkus awards.

The Statesboro High School graduate finishes his career with 20 sacks and 38 tackles-for-loss. He also had one interception – on his final play at Sanford Stadium, to seal Georgia’s 42-34 win over Georgia Tech.

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