ATHENS – For the past two weeks, Asher Allen said he has had trouble sleeping, has met with family almost daily to discuss his future and has spent nearly every moment weighing the pros and cons of leaving school early.
In the end, he said, the chance to support his family and the lure of the NFL were too much to pass up.
"Playing in the NFL is everyone's dream and its right there in front of me," Allen said. "My mother, father and my brother are a big part of my life, and we sat down for weeks. When I tell you it's the hardest decision I've ever made in my life, it's the hardest decision. Anybody that knows me knows I love Georgia. I bleed red and black."
Allen is a two-year starter at cornerback for Georgia who was considered one of the top junior prospects at the position, but his announcement still came as a surprise following a season in which he didn't record an interception and his other statistics were down significantly from his sophomore campaign, in part because he played the final five games of the regular season with a broken hand.
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The injury affected his on-field performance, but it may have played a role in his decision to leave early, too. Allen said, in the end, the risk of losing a chance to play at the next level because of an injury outweighed the dangers of leaving school before he was ready.
"It's a risk staying, and it's a risk leaving," Allen said, "but I really have to do what felt right."
In November, Allen said he would need to be projected as a first- or second-round pick in the NFL draft in order to leave early, but by Tuesday he had backed off of that statement. While he said he didn't want to reveal the specifics of the NFL review board's analysis of his draft stock, he said that regardless of where he is projected, he felt he could impress NFL evaluators enough during workouts and the combine that he could still be a first-day pick.
"Nothing is in concrete," Allen said. "Obviously a lot of stuff is what you do at the combine and what you do when you're talking to the coaches and things like that. A lot of things can help you out. It's a goal to go in the first two rounds. If you ask myself, do I feel like I am? Yes. I feel like I can. It will be up to the combine and how I execute there."
More than his draft stock, however, Allen said the decision was based on what was best for him and his family. While that didn't necessarily mean money was his primary motivation, he said, it was one of the determining factors.
Allen said it had been his dream to play in the NFL, and he did not want to risk an injury costing him that opportunity, despite some reservations about leaving college early.
"This has been the hardest decision of my life," Allen said. "I have been chasing this dream of playing in the NFL and after making this decision with my family, I feel like I am ready for this next step. But I owe everyone the world who has helped me out during my time at Georgia."
The 5-foot-10 from Tucker finished the 2008 season with 53 tackles and a team-high seven pass break-ups, and he recovered a fumble in the end zone that helped seal a win over South Carolina in September.
Still, Allen's failure to record an interception was a source of consternation all season. Against Arizona State, he had a pick overturned due to a penalty and had several other near misses throughout the season.
While his numbers this season didn't match a successful sophomore season, many opponents avoided Allen's side of the field in the passing game, a measure of respect that matches early reviews from NFL talent evaluators.
While few scouts pegged Allen as a first-round selection, ESPN's Todd McShay said he was definitely talented enough to play at the next level.
"I think every once in a while he'll make a mistake, and I think he could continue to improve his recognition skills," McShay said before Georgia's regular-season finale against Georgia Tech in November.
"He's quick, he's fluid as an athlete, he has adequate size. He's got good solid speed, probably in the 4.4 range. I have him in the early to mid second round."
With Allen leaving early, senior Ramarcus Brown graduating and junior Bryan Evans moving to safety, the Bulldogs' cornerback depth will be tested next year. Only junior Among their returning players, only Evans and junior Prince Miller have starting experience at the position. Georgia did land a commitment from Atlanta prospect Branden Smith, one of the top cornerback recruits in the nation, earlier this week. Allen also said he thought freshmen Sanders Commings and Makiri Pugh could play bigger roles in 2009.
While Allen's departure means Georgia's coaches will have to identify a suitable replacement at a key position in the fall, head coach Mark Richt said he understood Allen's decision.
"Asher Allen has been a great part of our football team as well as our overall athletic program over the past three years," Richt said.
"We will certainly miss him, however, we wish him the very best in the NFL draft and with his professional football aspirations in the future."
Allen's announcement follows the departures of quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno, who both decided to pass up their remaining college eligibility to go pro, where they are expected to be first-round selections.
While Allen may be waiting a bit longer to hear his name called, he said he was confident that he would find success at the next level, and in the end, that was his biggest reason for leaving.
"Hopefully, God willing, I will be able to do my thing there and continue Georgia's pride of having great NFL players in the league," Allen said.