ATHENS, Ga. - It's getting tougher to remember Georgia football before Aaron Murray.
When quarterback Matthew Stafford and tailback Knowshon Moreno announced in January 2009 that they were forgoing their remaining college eligibility for the NFL draft, Murray already had enrolled at the university as a promising quarterback from Tampa, Fla. Three months later, when Murray competed in his first G-Day spring game, he went up against a defense coordinated by Willie Martinez.
"He has been here for a while, and we joke around and call him the 'daddy' of the team," receiver Michael Bennett said. "He'll give us some advice, and we're like 'OK, Dad,' but it's all in good fun. We know he's the leader."
A 22-year-old graduate student, Murray has redshirted, quarterbacked the only losing team in the Mark Richt era and then been the player most responsible for two consecutive Southeastern Conference East Division championships and a No. 5 preseason ranking this year. Murray was clobbered by Auburn's Nick Fairley in November 2010 and clobbered by Alabama's Quinton Dial last December, but he has shown resiliency on those and countless other occasions.
Murray has squared off against every SEC program except Texas A&M, which entered the league last year.
"I've been here so long, and it's been a fun ride," Murray said. "I'm so glad that I made the decision to come back, and I don't regret it at all. I am very, very excited about this last season. It's going to be a fun one."
The only quarterback in SEC history to throw for 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons, Murray needs 1,438 yards to break the SEC's career passing mark held by former Bulldogs quarterback David Greene. He has 95 career touchdown passes and needs another 20 to supplant Florida's Danny Wuerffel atop the league charts.
Murray's school records include 3,049 passing yards in 2010, the most by a Bulldogs freshman, 35 touchdown passes in 2011 and an efficiency rating of 174.82 last season.
"I feel like he's already set all of them," tight end Arthur Lynch said. "The records are nice, but he came back to win an SEC championship and a national championship, and that's really what we all want to do as a program. There is an opportunity for us to be in that position again, but that can all go down the gutter if we lose focus and become complacent."
Since announcing on Twitter in January that he would return for his redshirt senior season, Murray has immersed himself further in film study, organized summer workouts and shed nearly 10 pounds from last season with the goal of extending more plays. Motivation for that last goal occurred in the fourth quarter of Georgia's 45-31 win over Nebraska in January's Capital One Bowl, when Murray was able to scramble and find tailback Keith Marshall for a 24-yard touchdown.
Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo considers Murray an extension of the coaching staff, but Bobo has challenged his star pupil to work on becoming an even better leader.
"There is no doubt that his preparation throughout his career is second to none," Bobo said, "but can he get this guy and this guy and this guy to prepare to work like you do? That's what a great leader can do. I think he's worked really hard at that."
The obvious missing piece to Murray's time at Georgia is a conference championship, a feat that also eluded Stafford. As even the most novice of college football fans know, Murray had the Bulldogs just 5 yards away from knocking off Alabama in last season's league championship game.
It's something that drives Murray today, though he appreciates his journey to this point - however long it has seemed to take.
"These last two years have been great, and we've definitely grown a lot as a program," Murray said. "To go from 6-7 to two consecutive SEC championship appearances is something that's pretty awesome, and it's been a great learning experience for everyone.
"Georgia is definitely back on the map, and we're a program that teams worry about and circle on their schedule. It's a great feeling to be back in the spotlight."