Georgia’s sophomore quarterback isn’t looking to just make up for last season’s 6-7 record or slip into the SEC title game. Murray is looking for perfection. He wants a goose egg in the loss column.
And he’s very serious.
“Anything else is unacceptable,” Murray said. “Have the talent and the coaching.”
Aaron Murray passed for 3,049 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. He also ran for four scores.
That’s a tall order for a team praying for health on the offensive line and looking for another playmaker at receiver and a starting tailback. But as Georgia’s unquestioned leader, Murray is setting the bar high because he has that much faith in his teammates, and they have even more in him.
Murray enters the fall leading all returning SEC quarterbacks with 24 touchdowns from last season, and he was a first-team All-SEC selection by the league’s coaches and media this summer.
Last season, he also set Georgia's freshman record for passing yards with 3,049 (second in SEC history by a freshman). He also rushed 87 times for 167 yards and four more scores, giving him the school and conference record for most total offensive yards (3,216) for a freshman.
Yet, he admits he’s not even the most athletic child in his family. His older brother, Josh, who played professional baseball, and his younger sister, Stephanie, a standout in both flag football and softball, outrank him.
He’s cool with that. He’s also cool with getting tips from Stephanie, who passed for a Florida high school record 42 touchdowns during her sophomore season and rivals his arm strength and accuracy.
“She can probably throw the football farther than half of the guys on our team,” Murray said of his sister. “She can launch it 40, 45 yards.”
Murray’s skill is undeniable. Opposing quarterbacks have said as much, with Kentucky’s Morgan Newton and Florida’s John Brantley gushing over his footwork and his ability to sell the play-action.
“For a guy that may not be the biggest guy he really is successful with how he uses his body and how he uses his feet,” Newton said. “He’s got a great arm, he’s accurate. I always watch what he’s doing down there.”
But what he really wanted to improve was his leadership skills. As a true freshman, Joe Cox taught him the true way to a team’s heart was to provide comfort. That meant spending time outside of the offense with teammates he didn’t work as closely with.
“When you’re able to communicate with everyone and be able to motivate everyone on the team, that’s a great leader right there,” Murray said.
Murray organized workouts three to four times each week. After gym sessions ended at 5 p.m., Murray divided players up for 30-minute film sessions, then guided players through 30 minutes of drills and one-on-ones, and then another 30 minutes of 7-on-7 drills, in which Murray scripted 20 to 30 plays.
“He doesn’t act like a redshirt sophomore,” cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “He acts like he’s a fifth-year senior with the way he carries himself. He has the respect of every single player on this team just by the way he works and by the way he leads.”
Added coach Mark Richt: “He's really a coach's dream in how he approaches the game. He understands preparation. He understands team. His motivation is for Georgia to win. His motivation is to see his teammates have success. He's had a season to live through it. I think all those great habits are going to serve him well the rest of his career.”
Richt is no doubt hoping that motivation translates into more wins. It’s no secret that Richt’s seat in Athens is hotter than ever and though Richt might be the SEC’s coaching dean, his failure to make it back to the SEC championship since 2005 has some wondering how long he’ll survive.
You’d think that’d be extra pressure for Murray, but he pays it no mind. He believes 2010 was more about plays not made rather than coaching.
“There are 10 or less plays from last year that if you press rewind and redo those plays we could easily have a 10-win season and no one would be talking about Coach Richt’s job,” he said.
Ten wins will certainly keep Richt safe, and whether Murray acknowledges it or not, he could greatly impact Richt’s future.
Fortunately for Georgia, wins are all Murray’s concerned with. People are expecting impressive numbers from him, but Murray will gladly trade All-America status for wins, and he intends to get them this fall.
“I’m one of the most competitive guys you’ll meet,” he said. “I can’t play any sport without getting in a fight if I lose. If I lose a video game I’m throwing controllers and I’m not talking to you for a while.
“I hate losing more than anything and if I could go back [to last season] and throw five touchdowns, but we win every game, I’ll do that in a heartbeat. I just want to win and do whatever it takes to win.”