ATHENS — Georgia coach Mark Richt said Friday linebacker Jarvis Jones and all but one of the team's rising seniors are returning for the 2012 season.
A group of 15 players, including 13 players who will be seniors in 2012 and quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Hutson Mason, joined Richt at the news conference. As a third-year sophomore in 2011, Murray submitted his name to the NFL draft board.
"Today to me really is a great day for Georgia, a great day to celebrate a lot of good news," Richt said as he stood in front of the large group of players.
Murray said he and Jones, also a third-year sophomore, shared notes all season and were in agreement each would return in 2012.
Jones led the Southeastern Conference and ranked fifth in the nation with 13 1/2 sacks this season, the second-highest total in school history. He was projected as a possible first-round pick.
Richt said Jones' commitment to continuing his career at Georgia was a catalyst for others to return. Among the players who decided to return for the senior seasons were defensive tackle John Jenkins, defensive end Abry Jones, safeties Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo, and linebackers Cornelius Washington and Christian Robinson.
Richt said Jones was so sure he wanted to return to Georgia that he didn't enter his name for feedback from the NFL draft underclassmen advisory board.
"I think it had a tremendous affect," Richt said. "I think Jarvis, as good of a season as he had, he had as good a reason as anybody to test the water. He was like 'I don't need to test the water. I haven't finished growing up. I haven't finished becoming the best player I can be. I haven't finished the business of winning at Georgia.' I was really proud of him that he was man enough to step up and say it.
"He didn't even put his name in. Never did. He was like 'I don't need to. I want to be here.'"
Jones, in New Haven, Conn., this week with other Walter Camp All-America selections, did not attend the news conference.
Tight end Orson Charles, who announced earlier this week he will enter the NFL draft, is the only junior not returning in 2012.
Mason, stuck behind Murray on the depth chart, considered a transfer but said he instead plans to be redshirted in 2012. Richt confirmed the redshirt plan for Mason, who would be a fourth-year junior in 2013. Christian LeMay will move up as Murray's top backup as a redshirt freshman in 2012.
Richt said the plans for Mason to be redshirted could change if Murray is injured.
Georgia finished 10-4 with losses to LSU in the SEC championship game and to Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl. The Bulldogs were No. 19 in the final Associated Press Top 25.
The 2012 seniors say they have bigger plans for next season.
"When we got through with the game we started texting each other," Robinson said. "I was texting Cornelius and Shawn and Rambo and everybody, just asking please stay, we have the opportunity to do something great. If we stay together, we'll be unstoppable. It really was a group effort, saying look what we have ahead of us, what's on the table."
Robinson said Jones' decision was a factor in Friday's show of unity.
"I think Jarvis definitely had the most hype and had been charted as a possible first-rounder," Robinson said. "When Jarvis came back, that definitely made a lot of people think if he's passing it up, he must be coming back for a reason and it must be something special and worthwhile."