Keith Marshall, the No. 6 player on the ESPNU 150 list and the second-rated running back, committed to Georgia on Tuesday.
Marshall said at a news conference at his school that he went to bed Monday night undecided. He woke up a Georgia Bulldog.
"That was from my heart," the five-star tailback from Raleigh (N.C.) Millbrook said of his decision. "When I woke up this morning, that's where I knew I needed to go."
Marshall admitted that Georgia had long been the leader over his other finalists: Clemson, Florida, South Carolina and Notre Dame. While the Bulldogs once had a solid lead, he looked closely at Clemson after what he said was a positive official visit there on Nov. 11.
Clemson sent three coaches to have lunch with Marshall on Monday, giving the Tigers the last face-to-face meeting with him before he announced his decision. Still, Clemson couldn't overcome the Bulldogs, who were Marshall's favorite childhood team.
"[Georgia was] the frontrunner but Clemson came on very strong," Marshall said.
Marshall had said repeatedly that his main concern with Georgia was Mark Richt's shaky job status. That issue become less pertinent as Georgia won 10 games and played in the SEC Championship Game. The Bulldogs will now face Michigan State in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2 (1 p.m. ET, ABC).
"They had a real good season this year," Marshall said. "They should be able to do the same next year. That was big because I definetely liked Georgia a lot. I wanted to make sure he would be the coach."
At Georgia, Marshall will compete for carries at Georgia with Isaiah Crowell next season, if Crowell can avoid injuries and off-field issues that plagued his 2011 season. Crowell rushed for 847 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games. He missed two games for the Bulldogs due to injury and disciplinary issues, but was still the Southeastern Conference's freshman of the year.
Clemson offered a more inviting depth chart. Starter Andre Ellington will be a senior in 2012.
The Tigers also offered a strong bond that had developed between Marshall and Clemson's players, including freshman receiver Sammy Watkins.
"The players I knew, Sammy and all those guys," Marshall said when asked what he liked about the Tigers. "They're really cool people. I really like the coaches there and the atmosphere. It was a hard choice."
Marshall said he called coaches from all the schools that he was considering just hours before his announcement.
Georgia will now turn to four-star recruit Todd Gurley from Tarboro (N.C.) High. Marshall and Gurley are close friends and have talked about attending the same college. Gurley has said he's primarily considering Georgia and North Carolina but is also evaluating other schools.
Marshall said Georgia certainly has a shot to land his good friend.
"I think he'll make the best decision for him though," Marshall said.
As hard as it was, Marshall kept a low-profile throughout much of the recruiting process. Keeping recruiting at a distance until his season was over probably helped him focus on his senior campaign.
"He had the best season he had since he's been here," Millbrook head coach Clarence Inscore said. "He's a true team player. He did everything that we needed from him and more. I don't know how any 17-year-old kid could handle it any better than he did.
"There was never a moment when it was about him. There was never a moment when he put himself above the team. He's everything a coach dreams of coaching."
Marshall thoroughly inspected every school that came calling, eventually culling the list to five schools last month.
He chose Georgia as much for logic as fandom.
"He's so smart," Inscore said. "He wants to be in the world of business. It shows because he makes great decisions. He looks at everything the school has to offer. A lot of times you have to coach a kid up about what to look for; that's not the case with Keith. He's on top of things and knew what he wanted and wasn't afraid to ask the hard questions of the coaches that came through."
Marshall rushed for 4,552 yards and 52 touchdowns in his career at Millbrook to become the school's all-time leading rusher and scorer. He rushed for 1,848 yards and 24 touchdowns this season despite being slowed early in the season by tendinitis in his knee.
He was selected as the Gatorade Player of the Year in North Carolina and is an Under Armour All-American.