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LORAN SMITH COLUMN: Aaron Murray well-deserving of national honor

Loran Smith

Loran Smith

NEW YORK — Aaron Murray became the 13th University of Georgia football player to be selected for a National Football Foundation Award earlier this week at a black-tie dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Georgia has had more NFF winners than any school in the country. Ole Miss is next with eight.

To see the Bulldog quarterback — who is the SEC record holder for SEC career yards (13,166), touchdown passes (121), total offense (13,562) and completions (921) — move about in Manhattan for the NFF festivities, you would not suspect that he is hobbled with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

He programmed an abundant schedule around his trip here. First, on Sunday, there was a stopover in Philadelphia where he spent time with his girlfriend, Kacie McDonald, who is a sportscaster for Fox Sports in the City of Brotherly Love. She was on assignment for the Lions-Eagles game, and Aaron accompanied her to the game to see his friend Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions play in a heavy snowstorm. Kacie worked the game in high heels, but when they were leaving in all the slush, he warned her, “You be careful. You know if you slip, I can’t catch you.”

Every morning while in New York, he was up for 7:30 a.m. rehab sessions with Ron Courson, who made the trip to New York to work with Aaron on his recovery plan as he moves forward with due-diligence to return to the playing field with an eye on a National Football League career.

Murray’s discipline and management of his time and interests is what Courson says sets him apart from most athletes. Then there is that altruistic and giving side, which keeps popping up from time to time. Courson remembers a scene at 10 a.m. after the Auburn game, a game in which Murray has never been more gallant but a game that was, nevertheless, lost in heartbreaking fashion. He had promised a volunteer supervisor that he would spend time with a local ESP (Extra Special People) kids group. He shrugged off the emotional hangover of defeat and showed up to host a clinic for the kids.

“His character and his heart along with his work ethic are remarkable,” Courson said, as he directed Murray through his twice-daily rehab routine.

Enjoying the high honor that comes with being chosen for the NFF scholar-athlete award and participating in the social activities which accompany the presentation, Murray found time to give priority to his rehab routine. Even the morning after a long evening as he took in a performance by the Rockettes.

He took his first train ride, from Philly to Grand Central Station, where he was taken with the beauty of the lobby of the famous landmark. He enjoyed dinner with the high school scholar-athlete winners and was not flummoxed by the snow since he knows about such weather from visiting his dad’s family in Syracuse. A highlight of the trip was to have his parents, Denny and Lauren, and his bother, Josh, attend the dinner with him. Only his sister, Stephanie, who was back in Athens taking final exams, missed the dinner.

His latest award is about the academic side of his collegiate experience. Already a graduate of the University of Georgia, Murray credits his parents by providing the influence that has enabled him to excel in the classroom. Like all kids, and especially growing up in sunny Tampa, Fla., Aaron was an outdoor advocate. There was always a game to play, but his parents were steadfast. Before you go out side to play, you must complete your homework.

“It was a culture in our family,” Murray said. “That is the way our parents raised us. It was the foundation of our life, school work was as important as sports.”

Georgia has had many scholar athletes over the years, but few have been as accomplished as Aaron Murray. He has combined performance and scholarship into the image of an All-American hero, one who is also about goodwill and extending a helping hand.

Few athletes anywhere have been more well-rounded than Aaron Murray, the Bulldogs’ gallant, gutsy and accomplished quarterback.