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Former Plant High star Aaron Murray lands with Tampa Bay Vipers

Murray won a state title in 2008, started for four seasons at Georgia and played briefly in the NFL.
Former Plant High star Aaron Murray will fulfill a dream when he steps onto the Raymond James Stadium field as a Tampa Bay Viper. [Tampa Bay Vipers]
Published Oct. 15
Updated Oct. 16

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.

Until now.

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.

Aaron Murray (left) will team with coach Marc Trestman to help lead the Tampa Bay Vipers of the XFL. The team starts play in February 2020. [Tampa Bay Vipers]

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.

MORE XFL: How the XFL will be different from the NFL

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 story 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.

Plant High coach Robert Weiner attended Tuesday's news conference to celebrate the Tampa Bay Vipers' selection of his former quarterback Aaron Murray. [Tampa Bay Vipers]

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:

Skill position phase
Round Pick (overall) Name Pos School
1 5 Nick Truesdell TE Grand Rapids Junior College
2 12 Seantavius Jones WR Valdosta State
3 21 De'Veon Smith RB Michigan
4 28 Jalen Tolliver WR Arkansas-Monticello
5 37 Quinton Flowers RB South Florida
6 44 Cole Wick TE Incarnate Word
7 53 Rannell Hall WR Central Florida
8 60 Reece Horn WR Indianapolis
9 69 Taylor Cornelius QB Oklahoma State
10 76 Alonzo Moore WR Nebraska
Offensive line phase
Round Pick (overall) Name Pos School
1 4 Jordan McCray C Central Florida
2 13 Martez Ivey T Florida
3 20 Isaiah Williams OL Akron
4 29 Andrew Tiller G Syracuse
5 36 Tre' Jackson G Florida State
6 45 Christian Morris T Mississippi
7 52 Tony Adams G North Carolina State
8 61 Daronte Bouldin G Mississippi
9 68 Marquis Lucas G West Virginia
10 77 Will Campbell G Michigan
Defensive lineman/linebacker phase
Round Pick (overall) Name Pos School
1 1 Obum Gwacham DE Oregon State
2 16 Deiontrez Mount DE Louisville
3 17 Ricky Walker DT Virginia Tech
4 32 Reggie Northrup LB Florida State
5 33 Josh Banks DT Wake Forest
6 48 Emmanuel Beal LB Oklahoma
7 49 Lucas Wacha LB Wyoming
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.

Times staff writer Joey Knight contributed to this report. Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

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