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Top Dawg glad his son's a Tiger

COLUMBIA, S.C. - This was one prospect Georgia coach Mark Richt turned away for all the right reasons.

His son, Jon, was a rising quarterback prospect at Prince Avenue Christian School in Athens who dreamed of starring for the Bulldogs. But armed with advice from his father, Jon selected Clemson, Georgia's regional rival about an hour away.

'My dad was very excited when I decided to come to Clemson,' the 18-year-old recalled recently.

And why not? Jon was headed for a major program on scholarship, to be coached by friends the Richts trusted. Gone was the potential for problems that comes from coaching your quarterback son at one of the Southeastern Conference's top schools.

'I felt like it was going to be tough, especially at the quarterback position, to have your son playing for you,' said the elder Richt, coach of the No. 1 team in the nation. 'I didn't want the pressure of trying to be unbiased because I'm not unbiased. I love the kid. I see the positives in him. I didn't want to put the pressure on our staff that way, and I didn't want my wife, who's our water girl, to tell me who should start at quarterback.'

Mark Richt also believes college is a time when teens strike out on their own, outside their parents' influence. 'And it's hard to do if you're right there in that same town,' Richt said.

Still, it's been an odd summer in the Richt household. Mark and wife Katharyn were accustomed to the hijinks of their four children - there's also 13-year-old David, 12-year-old Zach and 11-year-old Anya - rattling around.

Father and oldest son would share a bond over football, Mark watching Jon's high-school game tapes and offering tips and suggestions on Sundays.

'He's always been the best dad in the world to me,' Jon said.

As he spoke about his son, Mark caught himself staring at photos of the boy from the day he was born, as a high school senior and in his Clemson uniform at practice this summer. 'It does, as they say, happen fast,' Richt said.

What's eased the transition for the Richts is Jon's college choice. No. 9-ranked Clemson is a quick drive from Georgia, and Jon's popped home a few times since arriving for summer school and workouts. Also, the Tigers are coached by Tommy Bowden, the son of Richt's former longtime Florida State boss, Bobby Bowden, and Clemson assistant Brad Scott is among Richt's most respected friends.

'When you know and trust the people you're son's going to spend time with, it does make it easier,' Mark Richt said.

There've been plenty of oldest-child-goes-to-college moments for the Richts.

Jon roomed by himself at first and often called home, dad said. But once his fellow freshmen arrived, 'we hardly heard from him,' Mark said.

Then came Jon's budget-busting stretch when he ran short of money his father had given him for the summer, probably because he spent it eating fast food, his father said.

When Jon told Mark he was so short of cash he might not have gas money to drive home one weekend, Mark told him, 'Well, I guess we'll see you next week.'

Jon, at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, was a solid college prospect. He got interest from Alabama, Colorado, Florida State and Maryland, among others, finally selecting the Tigers because of how comfortable he felt with the coaching staff.

'I just want to do whatever I can do to this team,' Jon Richt said. 'This team has been great to me and I just want to return the favor in some form or fashion.'

He's likely to redshirt this season although he expects to travel with the Tigers. If so, Mark said, he could try to reach the Georgia Dome in time for Clemson's nighttime opener with Alabama on Aug. 30. Georgia has a noon kickoff with Georgia Southern that day.

Neither father nor son worry about divided loyalties. The strongest bonds, they agree, are those of family.

Right now, is doesn't look like Jon will ever face his dad's team: The rivals' next game is set for 2013, the year after Jon's eligibility ends. There's always the chance a bowl game could put the Richts on opposite sides of a marquee matchup. And there's no question these days about Jon's allegiance.

'Hopefully,' Jon says, 'the Tigers will come out on top.'

Like Mark Richt says, they do grow up too fast.