NEW ORLEANS — Judging from his disposition after the Sugar Bowl, it’s not surprising that Isaac Nauta had played his last game with the Georgia Bulldogs.
The junior tight end stood in the locker room and fielded reporters’ questions with his eyes blood red from crying. He was still emotional 30 minutes after the 28-21 loss to Texas had been posted.
“It’s emotional,” Nauta said. “You put a lot of time and effort and emotion into it and, you know, you look around the room at all the guys and the seniors and it’s not easy losing like that.”
He said then it’d be “a couple days” before he made a final decision on whether or not to turn pro. Right on time, Nauta made that announcement via his Instagram account on Friday afternoon.
“After thinking through this decision and speaking with my family and coaches, I have decided to forego my senior season and declare for the 2019 draft,” Nauta said from his account, ijay18. “I truly feel in my heart this is the best decision for me, and I’m ready to pursue another life dream of mine, playing in the NFL.”
Nauta certainly did good work at Georgia. A three-year starter for the Bulldogs, he finishes his college career with 68 catches for 902 yards and eight touchdowns. He might have been under-utilized as a receiver, following a freshman year of 29 catches with a sophomore season of nine. But he had 30 this past season and finished with a career-best 430 yards. He caught just one pass for three yards in Tuesday night’s loss to Texas.
Heading into the game, Nauta hinted that it wasn’t going to be production or even money for him when it came to making his NFL decision. It was all about opportunity and timing.
“How’s your body feel? How long can you do it? Is graduating and getting your degree important to you? Winning the national championship,” Nauta said two days before the Sugar Bowl “There’s so much stuff that goes into it and I think that’s what makes the decision so hard. I’ve definitely felt the weight of those questions, no doubt.”
Nauta likely won’t be the only junior jumping to the NFL. Safety J.R. Reed and receivers Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley are also thought to be leaning that way.
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Nauta has always thought big when it comes to his football career. A Buford native, he first distinguished himself at Georgia state high school powerhouse Buford High. But he transferred to IMG Academy in Florida to further test his athletic abilities and gain notice.
It worked as Nauta left IMG as a 5-star prospect and the No. 1-rated tight end in America. He chose the Bulldogs over Alabama and dozens of other scholarship offers.
Nauta considered returning to be part of a 2019 team he believes will contend for the national championship. In the end, his NFL dreams and a draft class that not brimming over with elite tight ends tipped the scales on his decision.
“I’m proud to be a Georgia Bulldog,” Nauta wrote. “Being here in Athens and playing between the hedges on Saturdays has been a dream come true for me. I am forever grateful for my time at the University of Georgia.”
Nauta’s departure will open up the competition at tight end for snaps next season. Freshman Luke Ford, who played a lot this past season, said he’s likely going to transfer to Illinois after this season. Junior Charlie Woerner is coming back after splitting time with Nauta and collecting 11 receptions for 145 yards this season. Freshman John FitzPatrick redshirted this past season and will be joined freshman signee Ryland Goede, a 4-star prospect out of Kennesaw.
“Georgia’s going to be good for a long time and is always going to have good players,” Nauta said.