December 31, 2011

Happy to be home

TAMPA, Fla. - It's almost impossible to miss Aaron Murray while driving around the streets and highways that weave in and out of Tampa, hometown of the Bulldog quarterback and site of Monday's Outback Bowl against 12th-ranked Michigan State (1 p.m., ABC).

Don't believe it? Just look up.

Part of the bowl's effort to promote the game has been to strategically place a number of billboards featuring Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins facing off against Murray in what's being billed as one of the better matchup of collegiate signal callers of the 2011 postseason.

"Yeah, it's pretty neat," Murray laughed. "I've had a ton of friends tell me 'Hey, we see you on the billboard' and things like that. I've gotten some slack for it, but its all fun and games."

For Murray and fellow Tampa native Orson Charles, the trip back has been everything they had hoped it would be.

Besides getting reacquainted with family and friends, there have been reunions with former coaches, many who have dropped by the team's practice home at the University of Tampa to watch the Bulldogs prepare.

"I think every coach from Plant has been to practice this week," Murray said. "I think one day there was five or six out there watching. It's just awesome being home; our friends, coaches, fans have been coming out, hanging out."

Charles hasn't stopped smiling since arriving back from Athens the Tuesday before Christmas.

"There are a lot of guys on this team who brag about where they're from. We've got a lot of guys from Atlanta, Savannah, places like that and everybody has always heard me talking about Tampa," Charles said. "So now, I get to show how great my city is and the guys are like 'OK, Orson, we see where you're coming from.' I just wish the weather was a little hotter. When I got here the temperature was like 85, but it's dropped a little bit. But I'm still proud."

Head coach Mark Richt said it's been fun to see the reactions both Murray and Charles have received since being back in town.

"Aaron's a happy guy, a happy kid. He's around his family and some people that he knows. Him and Orson have probably had a coach come visit them every single day," Richt said Saturday. "They even had their bus driver who was with them at Tampa-Plant come by, so he's (Murray) enjoying being around people he knows and loves. But when it's time to snap the ball, he's ready to go."

There has been plenty of demand for the duo's time.

Besides numerous responsibilities for the local media, the two have been besieged by local fans for pictures and autographs wherever they've happened to appear at functions throughout town.

But neither is complaining.

"There's been a lot, but it's been fun," said Murray, who happily obliged every request for his signature and a picture during the team's trip to Busch Gardens on Wednesday. "It's definitely a lot better than being 6-6, so signing a few autographs is definitely a good thing."

Like Charles, Murray has enjoyed showing off his hometown.

"It's been fun. Bowl games are supposed to be a lot of fun. I've said all week that we know we're playing a great team, but I know our guys have really enjoyed themselves," he said. "But when it comes down to it, we know we're here to play a game and we're ready to do that."

Getting the chance to play in Raymond James Stadium - home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is also going to be special.

"I can't wait. I just think about all those times I'd ride by that stadium and think to myself how great it would be to play there," Charles said. "I was there for a combine once, but never got the chance to play there in a game, so it's going to be special. I can't wait to get out there."

Charles just wishes he had enough tickets.

"A couple of my teammates have told me they would come through and point some my way," said Charles.

How many does he need?

"I don't know … 20, 25, 30," he said. "I need a lot."