NEW ORLEANS — Luke Ford stopped short of saying he’s made up his mind to leave Georgia, but he came as close to saying he’s gone as one possibly can without being conclusive.

The freshman tight end from Carterville, Ill., was choked with emotion as he told a handful of reporters in the Bulldogs’ Superdome locker room that he badly missed family — particular his ill grandfather — and likely will return home to play for the home state Illini of the University of Illinois next season.

Freshman tight end Luke Ford said he’s leaning toward transferring to the University of Illinois. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)/Dawgnation)

“That’s really the main reason, just being with family,” said the 6-foot-6, 252-pound tight end. “I love UGA; I love everybody here, the fans and everything. It’s not about football. It’s about going to play in front of my family.”

Meanwhile, freshman quarterback Justin Fields, the subject of a higher profile transfer, was nowhere to be found in the Georgia locker room after the Bulldogs’ 28-21 loss to Texas in the Sugar Bowl. A UGA support staffer said Fields “was just here” as reporters were allowed in the locker room following a 20-minute “cooling off period.”

Fields, a 5-star recruit out of Kennesaw, entered his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal two weeks ago. That gives him and his family free rein to speak to other schools about a possible transfer. Otherwise, other schools aren’t able to communicate with student-athletes on scholarship.

Fields did not play in Tuesday night’s game but traveled to New Orleans and practiced with the Bulldogs in the lead up to Sugar Bowl.

Ford did the same. Also a 5-star prospect, Ford said he has been contacted by numerous schools, most of which recruited him coming out of high school. But he made it clear that Illinois is his only possible destination other than Georgia.

“A lot of schools reached out to me,” Ford said. “Most all of them that offered me before. I’m only looking at Illinois. My grandfather is the one who got me playing football. It’ll be easier on him, but also my uncles, my aunts, family members, everybody, to come to my games.”

Ford did not appear to play in Tuesday’s game. He played nine of the Bulldogs’ 14 games this season, mostly on special teams and as a designated blocker on offense. He had one catch for four yards.