ATHENS -- Mark Richt was sitting in his office last Friday morning, getting ready to enjoy a quiet bye weekend. The head coach figured all his players would be doing the same, until he noticed two of them on the practice field below.
Perhaps no player on the Georgia football team deserved time off than Aaron Murray. And yet there was the senior quarterback, working on his footwork with reserve quarterback Faton Bauta.
“I went over the rail and told them to get out of here and relax,” Richt said. “But (Murray) said that there are no days off.”
This season is not what Murray signed up for when he decided to return for his senior year. The hopes for a national championship are gone, and the hopes for an SEC title are only barely alive. There will be no Heisman Trophy, and Murray is now a longshot to get invited to New York.
It’s not Murray’s fault. His receiving corps has been decimated by injury, as have his star tailbacks, and Georgia’s offensive production has dipped as the injury list has grown. The defense and special teams have a huge share of the blame, too.
But ask Murray if he now wishes he had bolted for the NFL, and the answer is a quick no.
“I wanted to come back and try to finish some things, get some goals. But no regrets, no matter how this season ends or what goes on,” he said. “No regrets. I’ll really cherish every moment I have here.”
Even this season?
Yes, he swears.
“I’m still playing football. I’m still out there with my buddies, having fun, competing,” Murray said. “Obviously I came back to try to give ourselves a chance to win a championship, but it didn’t happen. So what. Let’s move on, continue working hard, having fun, and that’s what I’m doing. I’ve been having fun all year, working my tail off, and I think everyone on this team is doing the same thing.”
If the season ended today, it still wouldn’t be a lost season for Murray. His performance in victories over South Carolina and LSU pretty much ended the debate regarding whether he can play well in big games. Then there was the Tennessee game, when Murray led Georgia on a game-saving drive without his top two tailbacks and three of his top four receivers.
On Monday, Murray was announced as one of 16 semifinalists for the Maxwell Award, another award that goes to one of the nation’s top players.
Plus, Murray can accomplish something else Saturday: A third win over Florida, something only two other Georgia quarterbacks, Buck Belue and John Rauch, have done.
“Aaron would love to be 3-1 as a starting quarterback (against Florida),” Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch said.
Lynch is Murray’s best friend on the team, his housemate and a fellow fifth-year senior. He points to last year’s loss to Alabama in the SEC championship as the moment Murray ultimately decided to return for his senior year. Murray waited a month to announce it, until after the season was over, but the sting of the loss to Alabama was the “driving factor,” Lynch said.
“So he came back for another shot, and he didn’t know how it was gonna go,” Lynch said. “You can’t predict injuries. So I don’t think he regrets it. But I definitely think if we had won the SEC championship, and then won the national championship last year, there wouldn’t even be a conversation. I think he would’ve been off doing his thing.”
Lynch meant the NFL, where it was still an uncertain prospect for Murray. He was not projected by most analysts as a first-round pick. But because of his height (6-foot-1) Murray also knew he wasn’t likely to play his way into first-round territory with a strong 2013.
That’s why the stated reasoning for coming back this year rings true. And it’s why the way this has turned out would make it understandable for Murray to be bitter.
Instead, there he was last Friday, doing drills with a redshirt freshman.
“We talked about it before he came back last year: ‘No matter what happens, there can’t be any regrets,’ ” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo said. “You’ve gotta go out there and play your tail off. Never ask ‘what if.’ That’s dangerous when you do that. You’ve gotta look forward. He’s the type of kid: always positive, always looking at the bright side of things.”
Said Richt, “He’s wired that way. Every single day, he wants to try to find a way to get better. He’s not feeling sorry for himself, or anything like that. I think he’s still very happy that he’s here with us, and he wants to finish strong.”