Murray Makes His Comeback

TAMPA - Aaron Murray's high school career nearly ended on a Thursday night in October. On Saturday he will be under center as his high school plays for the State Championship in Florida.

The Plant High School (FL) quarterback completed a short pass while being taken down awkwardly by an opponent and broke his leg – in what looked like a season-ending injury at that moment.

By lunch that Saturday, his email inbox and Facebook page were full of well wishes from Athens. Sound strange? Welcome to the wonderful world of recruiting.

Murray is rated the No. 2 quarterback in the country by Scout.com, and months before his injury he made a verbal commitment to play for the University of Georgia. On that day, April 24, he became part of the Bulldog Nation family.

It's an indicator of how complex and business-like the recruiting game has become that Murray knew exactly what he was getting into.

"My aunt lives in Georgia and she said, ‘Before you commit, I want you know the people are serious about their football,'" Murray said.

So serious that a player doesn't technically have to be one of their own yet to be welcomed in with open arms. As soon as Murray made his commitment to play for the Bulldogs, the hardest core segment of the Bulldog Nation, those who live in online communities like The Porch on DawgPost.com, had tracked him down and sent along messages to let him know they were thinking about him.

"The fans in Georgia are unbelievable," Murray said. "I got that sense when I went up for the Georgia-Alabama game. They are 100 percent behind their players and their team. You didn't hear one single boo in the crowd (the Bulldogs lost handily). You didn't see people leaving. No matter what, they've got their players' backs. They are great fans up there. They love their team. They love their players, and they're always up to date."

So Murray was not surprised when the words of encouragement came after his injury.

"I've gotten tons and tons of messages from people from Georgia," he said. "That's extremely nice. It's definitely helping me get through this process easier knowing I've got all them behind me."

Don Hightower, a Dublin resident who is a DawgPost.com member and a regular on The Porch, has been following recruiting for a long time, and the propensity of fans to reach out to players long before they are officially part of the team is the latest wave in its evolution, he said.

"Used to, 90 percent of the fans didn't know anything about the kids until Signing Day, and then it was just a name in the paper," Hightower said.

The increase in profile of recruiting services and Web sites has made it easier for fans to learn about the players and thus easier for them to feel like part of the family, Hightower said.

These days, any fan who is interested can quickly learn that Murray threw for 4,012 yards and 51 touchdowns in his junior season alone. He was the MVP of the national Elite 11 quarterback camp, and he was well on his way to another stellar season as a senior when he was injured.

They also knew he had scholarship offers from more than 50 major colleges, including Florida, LSU, Notre Dame, Tennessee and UCLA, and when he chose the Bulldogs from among that company, he was immediately family.

Murray never felt like his privacy was being invaded despite having hundreds of people he's never even met, many of them whose high school days were well behind them before he was born, requesting to be his friend on Facebook or emailing his private account.

"It's really cool to have those people message me," he said. "I look at it as a blessing that I have all these people who have my back. I'm just very, very thankful for all their support and their help."


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