ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Nick Chubb had decided to leave Georgia and apply for early entry to the NFL draft.

Despite a devastating knee surgery as a sophomore, Chubb bounced back strong with a mostly injury-free season and figured his resume was strong enough to warrant maybe a second-round pick.

After all, he had name recognition as a Heisman Trophy candidate in preseason and he's poised to become Georgia's No. 2 career running back behind Herschel Walker.

But then Chubb spoke with close friend Sony Michel, and the two tailbacks joined outside linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy. The four juniors would return for their senior years and help the Bulldogs head into 2017 on a positive note.

"My mind was made up I was going to leave, but it just didn't feel right," Chubb said on Thursday. "I felt like if I would need to leave, I would feel it and I would be able to accept it and move on. But something kept telling me, 'Maybe not right now, not the right time.' "

Chubb, Michel, Carter and Bellamy give coach Kirby Smart a veteran foundation heading into spring practice. Smart's first season has been a disappointment with home losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech and a last-second meltdown between the hedges against Tennessee.

Smart was proud, though, that the foursome ended speculation about their future now. The Bulldogs (8-5) won't have the distraction as they prepare to face TCU (6-6) in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 30.

"When you have guys who are committed to the process of what we're going to do and getting better, they have confidence in the direction we are headed," Smart said. "When you have that, you've got something special."

Chubb had 988 yards rushing and seven touchdowns this year, but his productivity was affected by a struggling offensive line and some questionable play-calling by new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.

Michel, the No. 2 tailback, ran for 753 yards with three TDs.

Carter has 49 tackles and four sacks. Bellamy posted 37 tackles and four sacks.

"When have a leadership role, you start to be like a big brother to some of these guys," Bellamy said. "I just didn't want to leave those guys yet. These are the kind of times that really challenge you."

There's some unfinished business for Chubb in the school record books. With 3,282 career yards rushing, he needs four to pass Todd Gurley for the second spot behind Walker's record of 5,259.

But Chubb, the SEC freshman of the year in 2014, said he's more focused on helping the Bulldogs win the Southeastern Conference East Division next year.

"With everyone else coming back this offseason, we feel like we can get it done," he said.

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