Sunday, November 19, 2017
Colleges

Plant High grad Aaron Murray leads Georgia to SEC title game

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Aaron Murray says his roommates tell him they feel bad for him.

They feel bad because when you type "Aaron Murray" into a Google search bar, the first two suggestions that pop up are "girlfriend" and "Twitter."

Murray, the 22-year-old quarterback for the Georgia Bulldogs, laughed at the notion of people Googling about his love life.

He doesn't read the online criticism — or the praise.

"Even the positive stuff, you don't want to get into your head and think of yourself too high or get mad at people because they talk trash," said Murray, who will guide the No. 3 Bulldogs into Saturday's Southeastern Conference Championship game vs. No. 2 Alabama.

"Everyone has their opinion."

It's difficult, however, for the former Plant High quarterback to ignore flak when it lands on your doorstep.

On Oct. 7, Murray tweeted, "Probably the worst 12 hours of my life . . ."

The day before, Georgia lost 35-7 to the Gamecocks in South Carolina. When Murray and his four roommates returned home to Athens, their house had been egged and covered in toilet paper.

Ty Frix, 23, one of the four other Georgia players who share the house with Murray, said they were "so low" that they just looked at each other and silently walked inside.

"It was one of those things like 'Oh, man. Well we'll deal with that tomorrow. Right now, all we want is to go eat and go to bed,' " he said.

"Obviously, it still hurt that someone would really take the time to find where I live and come egg my house," Murray said. "It was very disturbing."

The worst was yet to come.

• • •

His parents drove back from South Carolina and came back to his house, too.

While he was in his bed, with toilet paper and eggshells littering the property outside, his parents told him his dad, Denny, had thyroid cancer and would have surgery the next day.

"It was just a whirlwind of bad, bad stuff," he said. "At that moment, I didn't even think about a football game for two or three days. I was just worried about him."

Lauren, Murray's mom, said he led a prayer in a waiting room at Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center.

"We really just thank God for how blessed we are and that we have each other," Lauren said, choking up.

Murray's parents have gone to all his football game for 14 years, except one. Lauren said they missed this year's game at Auburn. Denny was receiving chemotherapy.

They came to him for Thanksgiving dinner, joining his sister and brother, who also live in Athens, she said. On football weekends, the only time Murray can spend with his family, they gather in the hotel room and watch Duck Dynasty, an A&E reality show about a bearded family living in the Louisiana bayou.

Doctors think Denny is now cancer-free, a relief as Murray prepares for the biggest game of his life.

• • •

In the SEC, football is king. Murray said he felt like he lost sight of his priorities.

"I mean, y'all are going to be doctors and lawyers and saving people's lives and doing all this great stuff and just because I can throw a football doesn't mean I'm more special than anyone else on this campus," he said.

"I want to come here, obviously play football, get an education, have some fun along the way. But if you're in my position, you have to be careful because people are looking at you at all times no matter what you're doing."

Frix said he doesn't know how Murray handles the pressure.

"Quarterbacks, when things go right, they get all the credit they deserve, but when things go wrong, they get the credit they don't deserve in a bad way," he said. "With the spotlight he's under, people scrutinize his every move. I've got to commend him for how he handles it."

• • •

An upbeat attitude and a driving focus appear to be Murray's greatest assets in handling the pressure.

Plant High coach Robert Weiner, who talks to Murray every week, described the 6-foot-1, 210-pound quarterback as "truly the eternal optimist."

Weiner recalled how in Murray's first start at Plant, the defense knocked him around and sacked him five times. After the game, he said Murray told him, "Coach, that was the most fun I've ever had in my life."

In 2008, Murray broke his leg during the sixth game of the season. Doctors told Murray his injury required a four-month recovery. His mom said they told Murray the next time he'd put on a jersey, it would be at Georgia.

But thanks to intense rehab work, Murray returned in seven weeks for the state semifinals and went on to help Plant win the state title.

• • •

Murray's a clean guy, Frix said. Doesn't leave his stuff lying around. Stays in "his little hole studying" when he's not watching film.

Frix said he and his roommates go eat after practices, come home, watch TV and go to bed.

Murray, though, eats and then returns to the practice facility to watch that day's tape.

"He puts in the hours, and that's something that I think from the outside, you can't understand that about him," Frix said. "People see him out there on Saturday, but they don't see all the time he puts in Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday."

After away games, Frix said Murray will leave the airport or buses to watch the game film and film of the next opponent. By Monday, Murray knows the week's game plan.

He doesn't get too high over the wins, he doesn't get too low over the losses.

"Aaron doesn't have time to boo-hoo about whether it's a loss or whatever," Lauren Murray said. "He wants to review what he did wrong, he wants to learn from it and he moves on. He's not going to keep beating himself over and over again because he doesn't have time."

When he isn't studying football, Frix said he sees Murray downstairs pounding psychology textbooks. After graduating high school in three and a half years, he finished his undergraduate degree at Georgia in three and a half years. Now, Murray is pursuing a master's degree in industrial psychology, which he hopes to apply to a coaching career, Lauren said.

"He has two lives: He has football and he has school. I don't know if he ever does anything other than that," Frix said.

• • •

The winner of the SEC title game will likely face Notre Dame in the BCS national championship game in Miami on Jan. 7.

This week, Georgia media outlets reported Murray isn't doing interviews leading up to the SEC championship.

He's not paying attention to the buzz — the national title implications, the assertions he'll choke in the spotlight again.

His mom said he'll likely be in the tape room, watching film.

Kelly Price can be reached at [email protected]

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