ATHENS, Ga. — A tale of two tweets tells the story of two Southeastern Conference quarterbacks from football-obsessed states.
One claimed the Heisman Trophy as a freshman at Texas A&M and is chafing under the scrutiny.
“(Stuff) like tonight is a reason why I can’t wait to leave college station ... whenever it may be,” Johnny Manziel tweeted this turbulent off-season.
The other is on the verge of establishing every SEC passing record as a senior at Georgia.
“Blessed to be the QB for the Dawgs, not ready to leave just yet. Time to get back to work & help lead this team to a championship,” Aaron Murray announced in January regarding his decision to stay for one more season.
Whose championship chances do you like better? I’d take the kid with the better attitude.
Johnny Football would probably be very surprised to hear about all of the heat that Murray has endured with grace and humility. Murray is the one who came home from a 35-7 defeat at South Carolina last October to find his house egged and rolled with toilet paper on the same night he learned his father had cancer. It’s Murray who has faced redundant questions through the years about his struggles in the biggest games while Manziel was granted protective immunity from the prying press.
Yet Murray responded to all the negativity by leading Georgia to within 5 yards of reaching the BCS Championship Game and deciding to come back for another chance.
“Being able to start for four years at Georgia in this conference, it’s been a true blessing,” Murray said Thursday on the opening day of his fifth preseason camp in Athens. “I definitely wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Georgia wouldn’t want to trade Murray for anyone heading into a rugged campaign with championship potential. Last year he became the first player in SEC history to surpass 3,000 passing yards in three consecutive seasons. He led the nation by almost a full yard in average yards per completion (10.1), was second by a mere fraction in passing efficiency and threw for 36 touchdowns in an offense that averaged 37.8 points per game. His 95 career TD passes are just 19 shy of the SEC record set by Danny Wuerffel at Florida and his 10,091 career passing yards are just 1,437 short of fellow Bulldog David Greene’s all-time mark.
But it wasn’t the pursuit of records that brought him back. It’s the unfinished championship business, both in the SEC and the nation.
“Definitely the potential championships, to have another shot at that,” he said of his decision to return. “But it’s been fun. I’ve enjoyed playing for the University of Georgia and have one more year left of it. I didn’t want to give that up.”
Murray has, however, given up some things for his final collegiate season. At his own choosing, he approached Georgia’s nutritional staff to create a new diet that would make him leaner, stronger and healthier. He hasn’t eaten fast food or junk food in more than a semester and gave up his biggest vice – watermelon Sour Patch candies.
“I killed those,” he said. “I haven’t had those in forever. Don’t even know what they taste like anymore, which is a good thing.”
The result is he’s lost 10 pounds to about 203 and trimmed his percent body fat from 14 to 9. He’s also upped his weight-room regimen as well as speed and agility drills.
“Physically it’s the best I’ve felt in four years,” he said.
Beyond his physical gifts, Murray has always possessed the leadership tools. You can tell a lot about a team leader in the way he deals with all the peripheral garbage. Murray doesn’t get sucked into it. Not only has he stopped eating trash, he says he hasn’t talked it since gloating after catching a two-point conversion pass in high school only to break a leg two plays later.
So Murray didn’t flinch when Gamecocks superstar Jadeveon Clowney claimed during SEC Media Days that the Georgia quarterback was “scared” of him.
“You know, I think the word fear was misused for respect,” Murray gracefully responded. “I definitely have a lot of respect for him. He’s one of – if not the – best player in the country. Unbelievable player. ... I’m definitely not scared. But definitely respect greatly what he’s able to do on the field.”
Unlike Manziel, Murray is also respected for what he does off the field. The scrutiny isn’t all that much different, even if Manziel has 451,000 Twitter followers compared to Murray’s modest 88,000. The attention is just part of the program for an elite SEC quarterback – even one who directed a 6-7 campaign as a freshman instead of winning the Heisman.
“That’s the great thing about college football – it’s fun and exciting and people are talking about it 24/7 even when it’s off-season,” Murray said. “You just have to be you, be mature and know what you can and can’t do.”
Murray isn’t called upon to do all the things Manziel has to do at Texas A&M for Georgia’s offense to be successful. And if things go well, he just might get to experience life under the Heisman microscope.
“Aaron has handled it great, but it’s different for everybody,” Georgia defensive lineman Mike Thornton said. “Johnny Manziel was a Heisman Trophy winner last year. Of course the buzz is going to be around him. After this season, everybody’s going to be ‘Aaron, Aaron, Aaron!’ after he wins his Heisman. I like his chances.”
Judging from their respective frames of mind, who wouldn’t?