ATHENS, Ga. — Like any college quarterback, Aaron Murray looks forward to Saturdays. For him, however, it’s not about football.
For the past few months, Aaron, 18, and his brother Josh, 25, have shared a weekly ritual. Every Saturday after practice or workouts, the two go out for Chinese food, then catch a movie.
For the Murrays, however, finding time with each other wasn’t always simple. It took more than seven years and a few twists of fate to bring the two together, and while they never expected to be teammates, the Georgia football fields turned out to be the perfect place for a second chance.
“I get emotional at times when I think about it,” Josh said. “It’s awesome having a younger brother that, even though I’m so much older, I can help him grow up now, and we can do things with each other.”
Family ties always have pulled at Josh, even from thousands of miles away.
Josh was drafted out of high school by Milwaukee in the second round of the 2002 Major League Baseball draft. Aaron was 11.
Josh started his career in Ogden, Utah — far from the comforts of the Florida home he loved. The schedule was brutal, the road trips seemed endless, and, more than anything, Josh missed his family.
He hit .255 with two homers in 48 games that first season, far below the expectations he and the Brewers had for him. For the next few seasons, Josh bounced around the minors in places such as Beloit, Wis., and Charleston, W.Va,. with limited success. Injuries played a part, but, Josh simply didn’t enjoy playing, and the life of a minor league baseball player is nearly impossible without a passion for the game.
“I just didn’t love it anymore, and I was forcing myself to play for four or five years just because of what (the Brewers) did for me,” Josh said.
The Brewers gave Josh a chance to go home in hopes he would be re-energized, but that was a temporary solution. Following the 2007 season, he gave up baseball for good and returned home to Tampa.
By that time, Aaron had blossomed into one of the top high school quarterbacks in the country. It was an ironic twist, Josh thought. When he was in high school, his mother forbid him from playing football, fearing he might get hurt. Now, his younger brother was receiving scholarship offers to play for some of the most prestigious college football programs in the country.
Josh spent much of the next year trying to find a new path. Baseball had dominated his focus for so long, he was essentially reinventing himself in his mid-20s.
Aaron also left home after he graduated from high school. Aaron was an immediate star on the campus of the University of Georgia, enrolling early in January to get a leg up on earning playing time as a freshman.
Still, for someone as close to his family as Aaron, the adjustment wasn’t simple. He missed home, but Josh visited regularly to ease the transition.
It wasn’t long before the older Murray gained an appreciation for life in Athens, too. The college experience had been a casualty of Josh’s baseball career, and he wanted to make up for lost time.
More than just college, however, Josh wanted a second chance at his true passion — football.
“I guess we just have it in our blood that we had to do something,” Aaron said. “We can’t just go to school or get a job — we have to do something athletic.”
Aaron suggested Josh join Georgia’s football team as a walk-on safety, an idea that met with some immediate skepticism.
Aaron was just a freshman, making his own name with the Bulldogs. Josh didn’t want to interfere. Josh had been a star athlete already. He wanted Aaron to have his turn.
In the end, however, it was those ties to family that made the decision an easy one.
Josh had been raised to love sports, and football offered the type of intense competition baseball lacked.
Football offered a new challenge.
And it was family that had drawn him home again in the first place. He had missed too much of his brother’s youth, and now football gave him a chance to bond with Aaron in a way he never could before.
The answer was simple, and a few weeks later, Josh was practicing with the team.
“It’s tough throwing myself out there, especially when I haven’t played in like 10 years,” Josh said. “But I knew if I didn’t, I’d regret it the rest of my life.”
Life doesn’t always turn out how it’s supposed to, Josh said. It’s one of a countless lessons he has learned along the way.
Seven years after he embarked on what he thought would be his career, the twists and turns of life brought him to a place he never would have dreamed, playing the sport he always loved. Best of all, he is doing it with his best friend.
“I think it’s wonderful to have them both on the same campus,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said, “and that never would have happened if they’d done it the normal way.”
Josh always had been as much a father figure as an older brother to Aaron, and now that the two are in college together, those life lessons Josh learned provide a solid foundation for the adventure Aaron is about to undertake.
“He’s always taking care of me and making sure I’m not doing stupid things,” Aaron said. “If he ever makes a mistake, he always says, ‘You know, Aaron, don’t do the things I did. Learn from me.’ So I really looked up to him and learned a lot from him growing up, and it’s nice to have him here to make sure I’m doing the right things.”
Josh admits he checks up on his brother often, and he gets a few phone calls from mom and dad hoping to get some insight on Aaron, too.
For the most part, however, Josh lets Aaron make his own decisions. He doesn’t want to interfere. Mostly, they just hang out around the house, play some video games or square off in a game of racquetball.
“He works hard,” Josh said. “I’ve never seen somebody who works as hard in my life. I’ve never seen somebody want it so bad. So when he comes to me, we just talk about relaxing and going out there to have fun.”
That’s the beauty of having Josh around, Aaron said. It’s a lesson he didn’t need to learn from his brother, but one Josh taught him anyway. Life is just easier with family around.