The disciplined leader of Georgia’s football team, a decorated senior in a graduate program for something called industrial-organizational psychology, started to lose focus and get a faraway look in his eyes. He was dreaming about …
“Sour Patch watermelons,” Murray said, as if he were standing in middle of a desert describing a mirage of cool mountain stream. “Love those. That’s my weakness. I killed those.”
He is the rarity in college athletics — the fourth-year starter. Usually by now, a football player, certainly at a skill position, will have left academics to play professionally because a paycheck generally trumps a free meal plan. Murray is different. He wasn’t going to be a first-round draft pick, and losing twice in the SEC Championship game kept the pull back to Athens strong. He’s one of the biggest reasons the Bulldogs have legitimate conference and national title hopes, and why Georgia should have one of the top offenses in the nation.
This is a different Murray from the one who started in any of the three previous seasons. One reason is the absence-of-junk-food factor. He has cut it out of his diet. No fast food. No sweets. Certainly no Sour Patch (watermelon). Goodbye normal college kid.
It’s not like Murray was a pork-pie before. But implementing a more sensible nutrition plan, as well as added speed and agility drills in training, led him to shed 10 pounds (down to 203 or 204) and drop his percentage of body fat from 14 to 9.
Georgia coaches told Murray they wanted him to be able to move around more this season. That shouldn’t be a problem now.
“This is the best I’ve felt in four years,” he said.
It’s needed. The Dogs open the season at Clemson. They return home the following week to face South Carolina, then two weeks later play LSU.
What does Murray think of the schedule?
“Excited,” he said.
What would he have thought about it if he were a sophomore?
Which leads to the other reason to feel good about Murray this season. The experience of playing in several big games over the past three years should pay off in the early weeks. He has been criticized, somewhat unfairly, in the past for not winning the perceived “big” games. But his performances down the stretch last season — 19 touchdowns, three interceptions and the near upset of Alabama in the last six games — is a comforting backdrop for coach Mark Richt.
At this point, Murray is like a coach on the field. “We know that when we install a game plan, he’s going to have an opinion on it,” Richt said. “He knows what has been successful in the past. He knows things that he feels comfortable with. We’re still coaching him and giving him information, but he’s probably at the point now where he can put in a pretty good game plan by himself.”
It’s a good place for Murray and Georgia to be.
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