April 4, 2012

Rome on the rise

In Valdosta, a city where high school football is the unquestioned king, the names Wright Bazemore, Nick Hyder and Stan Rome are held up as pillars, symbols of greatness for a community more steeped in prep gridiron tradition than arguably any in the entire USA.

They don't call it "Winnersville" for nothing.

Here, Bazemore and Hyder coached the Valdosta High Wildcats to 23 state titles and six national crowns.

It's also where Rome built a reputation as one of the finest in the land, a one-man athletic machine, whose exploits - both on the field and the basketball court - earned him state-wide fame.

Some maintain that Rome is the best high school athlete the state of Georgia has ever produced, a reputation his son Jay - currently a redshirt freshman with the home-state Bulldogs - learned about at a very early age.

For a youngster trying to forge his own way, it wasn't an easy shadow to escape

"It was really tough, but I was always the type of kid who instead of taking it as a burden, ran with it," Jay Rome said. "When people would tell me 'You might not be as good as your dad' I took it to work hard and prove that I was just as good if not better."

After high school, the elder Rome went on to star at Clemson where he played before being drafted, not only in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs, but also in the fourth round of the NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Ironically enough, Jay Rome's inherited his father's hoop genes as well, starting on the hardwood for the Wildcats before playing with Mark Fox's Bulldogs last season.

But it's football where Rome expects to earn his acclaim, and if Saturday's scrimmage is any indication, he's off to a good start after catching a pair of touchdowns, including a 30-yarder from Aaron Murray.

"Obviously, Jay Rome scored two touchdowns, which was nice to see," said head coach Mark Richt. "The one catch on the goal line was pretty acrobatic and he had to kind of turn his body and reach and snag it. He didn't land on his feet and the ball didn't come out so that is good."

Murray was impressed as well.

"Jay looked good out there," said Murray. "He has been working hard and he made some nice catches and made some plays that were really impressive."

Apparently, even father Stan was impressed.

Along with Jay Rome's younger brother Justin and cousin Jason, the elder Rome drove up from Valdosta Saturday morning to watch the scrimmage. As usual, when the group went to supper, Pop had some words of wisdom to offer his son.

"One thing about my dad, when I was little I used to hate it so much, but now I appreciate it more," said Rome. "When I would come off the field, first he'd tell me what I did good, but after he'd tell me two things I did good, he'd tell me four or five things that I did wrong, or I can improve on. But as I got older I realized he doesn't do it in a criticizing way, but in a helpful way, which I really like. After a while I started going to him and ask what can I do better and I found myself growing from it. I look forward to his helpful suggestions now."

The Bulldogs apparently have big plans for Rome this spring.

Although he's listed as the top backup to Arthur Lynch, Rome revealed there will be instances when the pair is in the game at the same time.

"I think we'll be a great duo," said Rome, who said the time he spent with the Bulldogs on the basketball court has helped him get in tremendous shape for the spring.

"I lost a couple of pounds during basketball season. After practice every day I'd do a little extra running after that," Rome said. "Coach Fox said he wanted to make sure he sent me back to Coach Richt in shape, so I dropped a couple of pounds. My foot speed got a lot quicker and I just think athletically it helped me a lot."

Rome, who said he weighed as much as 265, is now down to 254.

"There's still a lot of stuff that I still need to work on, my footwork plus a lot of tiny stuff to go with my routes that would make me that much better," Rome said. "It's just some fine details, but overall I think I had a pretty good scrimmage and was excited that I had that opportunity to make a couple of big plays."

Rome believes the best is yet to come.

"I think the scrimmage was a good indication, but there's still a lot I have to work on, especially in the blocking game and my route running, just fine-tuning a few things," he said. "But that's what spring ball is for."