Jay Rome tired of biding his time, ready to roll

Three years after coming to Georgia as one of the principle pieces in the “Dream Team” recruiting class of 2011 — ESPN rated him No. 1 in the nation at his position coming out of Valdosta High — Rome stands poised to take over at tight end. And at this point, to stand without crutches is a key accomplishment.

Rome spent a solid three months – from Nov. 9 until Feb. 10 — on crutches. And that was under non-weight-bearing restrictions.

“That’s the biggest thing, just not being on crutches anymore,” Rome said.

In May, he finally had removed the two surgical screws holding the first- and second-metatarsal bones together in his right foot. That was from the season-ending lisfranc ligament injury he suffered against Appalachian State in November. The high-ankle sprain on his left leg that dogged him from August until then is a separate and mostly resolved matter.

Since then, Rome has has had to re-train his muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments how to walk and run. He’s happy to report that, as the Bulldogs continue through summer strength-and-conditioning work, he’s able to run full speed with the rest of the team. Not necessarily every day, but most days, with some carefully maintained and highly-monitored post-practice recovery.

“They want to make sure I’m running with the right mechanics,” Rome said during a recent interview at the UGA football complex. “It’s easy to compensate without realizing you’re doing it, and that will just cause different problems. I was off it for a long time, so I’ve got to get those muscles back strong and used to impact.”

Eventually he got around to what all Georgia fans want to know: “Yes, sir, I’ll be ready for Clemson.”

Of course, it came with a significant caveat — “if no drawbacks” — and the ability to avoid those is paramount to the Bulldogs’ offensive fortunes in 2014.

In case it hasn’t been noticed, tight ends play a significant role in the successful execution of Georgia’s pro-style-based offensive system. There have been a long line of great ones who have played the position for the Bulldogs under coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Several of them have gone on to earn an NFL paycheck, including Ben Watson, Leonard Pope and Orson Charles.

Arthur Lynch, UGA’s starting tight end the past two seasons, is the latest to join that group. He earned first-team All-SEC honors last year after catching 30 passes for 459 yards and five touchdowns. The fifth-round draft pick recently signed a four-year, $2.4 million contract with Miami Dolphins.

If that tradition is to continue, Rome needs to come through. He’s the only tight end on the roster who has played in an SEC game, with the exception of hybrid fullback Quayvon Hicks, who’s getting work at tight end to build depth. The only other tight ends on scholarship are redshirt freshman Jordan Davis and true freshman Jeb Blazevich.

“It really is his time,” Georgia tight ends coach John Lilly said of Rome. “This is kind of the first time that he has been ‘The Guy’ in the room. When he came in we had guys like Orson Charles and Aron White who had played a lot and were the leaders in the room and on the field. And then Artie became that guy. Now Jay, when he looks around now, he’s the only guy in the room that’s played tight end in an SEC football game.”

Lynch, as much as anybody, has seen Rome’s potential up close and personally.

“I’ve been pulling for Jay since the day he got to campus,” said Lynch, who also had to bide his time before becoming a starter. “I think he’s a guy that has a lot of talent, a lot of potential. He’s a guy that gets it and does things right both on and off the field, does things right in school. He’s always tried to be a leader, and he’s becoming a leader on that football team. The thing with him is taking care of his body and staying healthy. Some things he can’t control, but other things he can.”

It hasn’t been easy on Rome. Though he has shown enormous potential, he 20 catches, 251 yards and two measly touchdowns to his credit. Being the injuries and waiting his time, he has played in only 22 games with two starts.

Last year was expected to be Rome’s breakout season. He was coming off a redshirt freshman season that included a 19-yard TD catch against Alabama in the 2012 SEC Championship game. But 2013 began with a high-ankle sprain on the fourth day of preseason camp. That sidelined him for most of the Clemson game and all of South Carolina. He aggravated the ankle injury against in Game 3, then eased his way back into the rotation over a five-game stretch that included LSU, Tennessee, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Florida.

With Lynch sidelined with an injury, he finally got a start against Appalachian State on Nov. 9. In the second half, he tangled up with a defensive back, stepped on his foot and snapped a ligament. He didn’t play again in 2013.

“It’s definitely taken some patience,” said Rome, whose father, Stan Rome, starred at Valdosta High and Clemson. “I’ve had to look deep down inside and say, ‘I’ve got to keep believing in myself.’ My dad’s been a real big part of everything for me. He always gives me good advice. And staying prayed up with my family.

“It’s really been a tough journey, but I feel like tough journeys make you who you are. Everything I’ve been through is going to make me better.”

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