HOOVER, Ala. — On the trip over from Athens, Ga., on Thursday morning, Georgia senior quarterback Aaron Murray had a confession for coach Mark Richt.
"On the flight down here, he was saying how he can't wait until camp starts because he won't have to coach anymore," Richt said on the final day of SEC media days. "He's been coaching all summer. He says it takes a lot of energy to coach and practice. He's done a super job of organizing our offseason workouts."
Because NCAA rules prohibit coaches from summer practice contact with players, Murray — heading into his final season, his fourth as a starter — has taken it upon himself to run things.
He broke the team into groups, organized workout schedules and kept track of attendance — the group with the best attendance earning dinner at LongHorn Steakhouse.
"He organizes everything, he gets the players together and tells them what to do," Georgia receiver Arthur Lynch said. "He's mentoring the younger quarterbacks to make sure after he's gone we won't be left out in the weeds. He's our most important person because he's a leader on the field and off the field. Everybody's looking at him because he's in the spotlight, and he's done a great job of leading by example and doing it the right way."
With the exception of a Fourth of July break at the lake with his family, Murray, a Plant High alumnus, hasn't taken any time off.
"Other than that, it's been grinding away," he said.
Two years ago, Murray conducted an analysis of his teammates in which the biggest knock was he just wasn't tough enough on them. Through time, he has grown comfortable with the leadership role.
"If you start just randomly going out there and cussing people out, it's fake and it's not sincere, and no one's going to listen to you," Murray, 22, said. "I just think the older I got, the more receptive people were. I can voice my opinion a little bit more and be more genuine in what I say and what I do."
Richt said during the recruiting process "he was going to be a really good fit" at Georgia. But he's equally proud of the man Murray has become.
"He's a great example for our young guys," Richt said. "I'll bet he does more community service than anybody. Just walking down the street for him, going to the grocery store, whatever, becomes a little bit of a community service project in that people stop him, they want to talk to him, they ask for pictures for their children or for themselves or autographs. He's a very gracious ambassador for Georgia. He's a blessing to us … He was raised well, let me tell you."
Murray is the first quarterback in SEC history to have 3,000 passing yards in three consecutive seasons. Last season, he started all 14 games and finished with 3,893 passing yards and a school-record 36 touchdown passes. In one of the most competitive SEC Championship Games in league history, he led the Bulldogs to within 5 yards of a possible upset of eventual national champion Alabama. The Bulldogs rebounded with a 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, but it's that SEC title game that has fueled this offseason.
"I've watched I think four times now. I'm always just trying to learn something new every time I watch it," Murray said. "It was tough. But it was a great learning experience. We learned a lot from the game. And I think we built a lot of confidence as a team from that game, knowing that we can compete with the best of them. And we've carried that confidence over to this year. We're feeling good, and we're ready to go have a great year."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.