ATHENS -- Things were not going well. Some players were over here. Some were over there. The summer workout, a very voluntary one, was devolving into chaos.
Then a voice could be heard yelling. Everyone stopped. Not everyone listens when Aaron Murray speaks, because he does that a lot. But they listen when Murray drops the pretty-boy smile and raises his voice.
The drill quickly got back on track.
“They know it’s a rare thing,” Murray said of his yelling. “So when I do, it’s very sincere.”
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There are many stories around campus and the state of Georgia about Murray, the fourth-year starting quarterback and potential Heisman Trophy candidate, and they usually revolve around what can be an insult for a football player: He’s so nice.
If there’s a story of Murray stiffing a fan for an autograph or picture, it hasn’t surfaced. Teammate and close friend Arthur Lynch says the two will be at a gas station in “God-knows where, Georgia,” and people will come up to him. Murray will gladly cooperate.
“If you understand how much he gets asked and how it takes a toll on him, you appreciate how he conducts himself, in public and behind closed doors,” Lynch said. “I don’t know if I could do it the same way.”
His coaches are in awe of his off-field habits. Head coach Mark Richt said, “He’ll spoil you.”
Murray probably would win a media award for congeniality. Media members joke about how excessively positive he always is, how often he uses “great” and “tremendous” in his comments and how “excited” he always claims to be.
Those around the team and campus say it’s no act. Murray has the pleasant disposition almost all the time.
Lynch described the story about the 7-on-7 drill. Coaches are not allowed to organize or supervise summer workouts, so Murray has taken it upon himself this summer to do so, devising a plan and helping keep it going.
And, when necessary, he brings out his bad side.
“He’s been doing that more,” Lynch said. “I think in years past he was put in a leadership position because he’s the quarterback. Now I think he’s the guy; he’s also the leader; he’s really the coach on the field.”
Murray agrees with the assessment, saying it comes from the motivation to do the only thing that has eluded him in college: a championship or at least something beyond an SEC East title. He has started every game. He has set program and SEC records, and if he stays healthy, he will continue to pass Peyton Manning, David Greene and other luminaries.
All that’s left is more national recognition, for himself and his team. He still lacks both. Even in the SEC, he didn’t make the preseason first- or second-team, trailing the reigning Heisman winner (Johnny Manziel) and national championship quarterback (A.J. McCarron).
“There’s nothing wrong with going under the radar,” Murray said. “I’m not here to break records or win a Heisman. I just want to win some championships. That’s why I came back this year. I’m not looking for any recognition or any pat on the back. I just want to win. I want to leave here a winner, get some trophies and be on my way.”
Back to the “nice guy” routine. Last week’s mini-controversy at SEC media days is another example of Murray’s niceness. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney opined that a few quarterbacks were “scared” of him and said, “Aaron Murray’s one of them.”
No one around Georgia expected Murray to return verbal fire or get defensive. His response, that he respected Clowney and gentle response that, of course, he wasn’t scared of getting hit by anybody, was true to form.
Murray also avoided saying something bad about Alabama’s Quinton Dial, who blind-sided him with a downfield hit in the SEC championship game. Murray never ripped Auburn’s Nick Fairley for a spearing hit in their 2010 game.
It’s not quite aw-shucks, all-the-time, a la Tim Tebow. It’s also not quite Manziel, although Murray, who will turn 23 in November, never has denied having his share of fun.
“I get called pretty boy now and then, I guess,” Murray said, with a laugh.
It can be a delicate balance for quarterbacks. They have to show fire and leadership but also a sense of calm. Sometimes it can be too much calm. Missouri quarterback James Franklin talked this past week about the criticism he gets for his ever-present smile, even in some losing situations.
Murray has had his share of losses, interceptions and fumbles, although they have been far outweighed by the touchdowns and victories. Murray said it’s important to tread that line and know that his teammates, coaches and fans can feed off of his actions.
“You have to show that you’re not out of the game,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with showing, ‘Hey, that didn’t bother me.’ You have to move on from it and go to the next play. You don’t want to go to the sideline and start cussing and throwing water bottles. That effects the whole team. So there’s definitely a balance between showing you’re a little ticked, but you’re also showing the team you’re not out of it and ready to go the next series.”
Do people tell him he’s too nice?
“Every now and then guys are like, ‘Oh you’ve gotta talk more trash.’ But it’s not my game,” Murray said. “You can’t be something you’re not. You can’t fake it, because if you do try to fake it and act tough, it just comes off as fake, and you look like an idiot. So just be who you are.”
And who he is right now is a generally nice, approachable young man, who is bringing out his inner bad guy when necessary, knowing he has one season left to cement his legacy.