ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia's offense was hit with a four-player exodus of juniors to the NFL on Friday that took away the team's top three receivers and second-leading rusher.
Tailback Elijah Holyfield, tight end Isaac Nauta and wide receivers Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman announced Friday they are skipping their senior seasons to enter the NFL draft.
Ridley, the younger brother of Atlanta Falcons rookie Calvin Ridley, led Georgia with 44 catches for 570 yards and nine touchdowns. He finished strong with five-catch games against Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game and against Texas in the Sugar Bowl.
"I could not imagine any other program preparing me for the next stay the way this one has," Ridley said on his Twitter account.
Hardman had 34 catches for 532 yards and seven touchdowns. Nauta had 30 catches for 430 yards and three touchdowns. Nauta's top game of the season came against Florida, when he had five catches for 73 yards.
Nauta said he made the decision to pursue his "life-long dream" of playing in the NFL after consulting with his family and coaches.
Holyfield, the son of former boxing champion Evander Holyfield, joined D'Andre Swift to give Georgia two 1,000-yard rushers for the second straight season. Holyfield ran for 1,018 yards with seven touchdowns.
Holyfield said on his Twitter account he was grateful for the support from his teammates, coaches and Georgia fans. "I am humbled by the love you have given me during my time in Athens, and you all have ensured red and black will forever run through my veins," Holyfield said.
Coach Kirby Smart issued a statement in which he said: "We wish the best" to the four "as they pursue their careers at the next level.
"All four of these juniors contributed significantly to our success during the last two seasons and we look forward to them making the best out of their shot at the NFL. As with all our players, we also will encourage them to complete their degrees to get prepared for the next chapter of their lives."
Also Friday, freshman tight end Luke Ford, from Carterville, Illinois, announced on Twitter he is transferring to Illinois "due to my grandparents' deteriorating health and my family's inability to afford to see me play in person each week."
Ford had one catch for four yards in nine games this season.