TAMPA — Aaron Murray used to wear Brad Johnson and Shaun King jerseys and dream of playing on the same field as Bucs greats Ronde Barber, John Lynch and Derrick Brooks.
He went on to lead Plant High to a 2008 state title, start at the University of Georgia and eventually made it to the NFL. For a little while, he bounced around from team to team, but he never found his way back home.
The XFL, the spring professional football league backed by World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon, will make Murray’s dream a reality. When the XFL relaunches in February, Murray will walk onto the Raymond James Stadium field as the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Vipers.
“That was my goal as a little kid,” Murray said Tuesday. “It really is a dream come true.”
Murray, 28, will play for Marc Trestman, the former head coach of the Chicago Bears (2013-2014). Trestman, who also has been an offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach for numerous other NFL teams, said that he wanted not only a quarterback but also a high-character leader.
Two prominent former coaching colleagues assured Trestman that Murray was that type of player: Mark Richt, who coached at Georgia for 15 seasons and at Miami for three seasons, and Tony Dungy, who coached the Bucs for six seasons and won a Super Bowl with the Colts.
In Murray, Trestman got more than a quarterback and more than a leader. He got a spokesman for XFL 2.0.
“You’re not going to see all of the extra stuff that you might have seen in 2001,” Murray said. “It’s going to be a good, old-fashioned game, but faster-paced, a lot of energy, less down time. I think the biggest thing that fans are going to love is that for 20 bucks you can sit in the stands and watch a football game.”
Familiar. Faster. Affordable. Check, check and check.
So Murray’s already nailing the XFL marketing pitch, but how good of a quarterback can he be? Trestman said he has yet to realize his full potential.
“I’ve told him, and I tell quarterbacks all the time: Every quarterback is on their own journey,” he said. “Steve Young didn’t start until he was 29. Rich Gannon didn’t become MVP of the league until he was 34. Brad Johnson. Delhomme. Kitna. Kurt Warner was in a grocery store when he got a call. Just because it hasn’t happened the last four years doesn’t mean it can’t happen."
After suffering a knee injury during his senior year at Georgia, Murray fell to the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft, where he was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs. He later spent time on the practice squads for the Arizona Cardinals (2016), Philadelphia Eagles (2016) and Los Angeles Rams (2017). Earlier this year, he played in seven games for the Atlanta Legends of the Alliance of American Football, which ceased operations in April.
The XFL also announced the quarterbacks for the league’s seven other teams. They are: Landry Jones (Dallas Renegades), Cardale Jones (DC Defenders), Phillip Walker (Houston Roughnecks), Luis Perez (Los Angeles Wildcats), Matt McGloin (New York Guardians), Jordan Ta’amu (St. Louis Battlehawks) and Brandon Silvers (Seattle Dragons).
Oh, there was a draft
After the quarterback assignments, XFL teams began populating their 71-man rosters via a draft that consists of five phases. They completed three phases Tuesday — skill positions, offensive linemen and defensive linemen/linebackers. They will complete the defensive back phase and an open phase Wednesday.
In the fifth round of the skill position phase, the Vipers selected another Tampa Bay fan favorite: former USF star Quinton Flowers, who broke or established 42 school records in his three seasons as a Bulls starter. The team announced him as a running back, but Trestman said he will get reps at quarterback.
“We drafted him because we think he’s a quarterback who’s a great athlete,” he said. “He drops back, he makes all the throws, he can get himself out of trouble, but he’s a quarterback first — there’s no doubt about it. When he’s in the pocket, he’s looking at the defense, he’s making decisions, and I think he can excel in this offense at quarterback.”
“When he gets the call to be a running back, he’ll be a running back, but he starts with us in the quarterback room and in competition with the two other guys (Murray and Taylor Cornelius).”
Here are all 30 of the selections the Vipers made Tuesday:
|1||5||Nick Truesdell||TE||Grand Rapids Junior College|
|2||12||Seantavius Jones||WR||Valdosta State|
|5||37||Quinton Flowers||RB||South Florida|
|6||44||Cole Wick||TE||Incarnate Word|
|7||53||Rannell Hall||WR||Central Florida|
|9||69||Taylor Cornelius||QB||Oklahoma State|
|1||4||Jordan McCray||C||Central Florida|
|5||36||Tre' Jackson||G||Florida State|
|7||52||Tony Adams||G||North Carolina State|
|9||68||Marquis Lucas||G||West Virginia|
|1||1||Obum Gwacham||DE||Oregon State|
|3||17||Ricky Walker||DT||Virginia Tech|
|4||32||Reggie Northrup||LB||Florida State|
|5||33||Josh Banks||DT||Wake Forest|
|8||64||Anthony Stubbs||LB||Prairie View A&M|
|9||65||Jason Neill||DE||Texas-San Antonio|
|10||80||Devin Taylor||DE||South Carolina|
Former USF tight end Sean Price and guard/tackle Quinterrius Eatmon also were drafted Tuesday. Price went one pick ahead of Flowers, to the Dallas Renegades. Eatmon went to the Seattle Dragons in the fifth round of the offensive line phase.
For those tracking local products: Tight end Orson Charles (Plant) went to Washington in the sixth round of the skill position phase, running back Matt Jones (Armwood) went to St. Louis in the seventh round of the skill position phase and defensive tackle Leon Orr (Gulf High) went to Los Angeles in the seventh round of the defensive linemen/linebackers phase.