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Season-ending injuries don't influence recruiting process for Kennard, Murray

Aaron Murray was on the verge of a record-setting season as the golden-armed quarterback for Plant High in Tampa, Fla.

Nearly a continent away, defensive end Devon Kennard of Desert Vista (Phoenix) was tracking quarterbacks, turning them into mush.

Murray's game featured touchdowns, chunks of passing yardage and sage leadership. Kennard's was measured in sacks, tackles for loss, and disrupting opposing backfields.

"God has a plan; I've accepted it," Kennard said.

Kennard and Murray each suffered leg injuries this season, unceremoniously squashing their senior seasons.

Both are so talented that colleges never wavered on their scholarship offers.

Kennard and Murray were the primary reasons their teams secured games on the ESPN family of networks this season.

The credentials oozed talent -- Murray was No. 13 in the ESPNU 150 player rankings and Kennard No. 14 -- but their careers are on hold following surgery and pending rehab.

Kennard will miss his team's nationally televised contest Friday against Phoenix rival Mountain Pointe (ESPNU, 10 p.m. ET).

The premature end lingers.

"Frankly, it stinks," said Kennard, who suffered a torn meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Sept. 19. "I had many goals for this season on the football field, but now I have to concentrate on getting ready for college. I'll rehab the knee, and by March get ready for three months of intense training so I'm ready by early July when I leave for college."

It's that glass-half-full attitude that buoys Kennard when his knee is stiff and the range of motion isn't there. Since the injury, he has focused his attention on getting well and encouraging and coaching up his teammates when the Desert Vista Thunder are playing.

His brother, Derek Jr. -- Desert Vista's defensive line coach -- notes Devon's positive attitude despite the setback.

"Sometimes he's so close to the field [on his crutches] that I have to tell him back off," said Derek Jr., who played in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts and two years in the CFL with the Ottawa Renegades.

Devon Kennard went into the season as the top-ranked defensive player from the Class of 2009, according to ESPNU's Scouts, Inc. After the injury he fell to sixth. He is ranked behind defensive backs Dre Kirkpatrick and Craig Loston (committed to Louisiana State); linebackers Manti Te'o and Jelani Jenkins; and defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel (Florida State).

Ironically, Kennard's injury occurred on an offensive play (he doubles as a fullback), a few plays removed from recording a key sack to halt a two-point conversion against Chandler. The sack helped preserve Desert Vista's 21-20 victory.

"It may have been Desert Vista's play of the year," Derek Kennard said of his brother's game-saving stop.

With the regular season concluding this weekend, Desert Vista (7-2) is in great shape for the Class 5A Division I playoffs.
Sacked

In Florida, Plant (7-1) is 2-0 since Murray's injury. It will play Jefferson (Tampa) on Friday for the District 10-4A championship.

Murray suffered a broken left fibula and ligament damage Oct. 16 against Hillsborough. He had surgery a week later at St. Petersburg's St. Anthony Hospital. The surgery was performed by Koco Eaton, the Tampa Bay Rays' orthopedic surgeon.

Murray's timetable for recovery is six months. He will enroll at the University of Georgia in January but will miss the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio.

He concluded his career with 79 TD passes in 19 games, and was on pace to eclipse records in Hillsborough County (83) and the state of Florida (99).

But Murray had an inauspicious start to his senior season, completing only 13 of 36 passes (36 percent) for 119 yards in a 9-2 loss to local rivals Armwood (Seffner) on Sept. 5.

The battered and flustered feeling was short-lived. In the next five games, he threw for 28 touchdowns and ran for two more. As a dual-threat quarterback, he completed 88 of 142 passes (62 percent) for 1,722 yards and rushed 25 times for 253 yards (10.3 yards per carry).

Murray's prep career ended when he landed awkwardly after a pass under heavy pressure.

His backup, sophomore Phillip Ely, has followed in Murray's footsteps, guiding the Plant Panthers to two wins and throwing for 232 yards and five TDs in a 50-14 thumping of Leto.

Murray entered his senior year with a scholarship and a sparkling dossier.

Last season, he passed for 4,012 yards and a state-record 51 TDs, while rushing for 932 yards and 12 more scores. In the spring, he committed to Georgia over Florida and UCLA, but fielded 53 offers.

Decision '09

Unlike Murray, Kennard is undecided on a college. He has already pared down his list from several offers. Kennard is solid on the five, but might add another school now that he's been reviewing his finalists.

Here's a look at the five, with Kennard explaining the positives about each one:

• Southern California: "Pete Carroll's a great coach. The program is tradition-rich and has a legacy that few schools have."

• Texas: "One of the storied programs with a great [coaching] staff. They've produced several great players."

• California: "They want me to line up [on defense] on the edge in a 3-4 scheme. They run several blitz packages, and that's what a defensive player wants."

• Arizona State: "The campus is only 30 minutes from home; that's appealing, playing close to home where family and friends can watch me play regularly. Plus, it's an opportunity to play right away."

• UCLA: "This is a program on the rise with [coach] Rick Neuheisel. He's a cool guy. Some may think they are a long shot [for me to sign with], but you never know."

Kennard is in no rush. He won't decide until he visits each school, but if the moment strikes him, he might pull the trigger.

"But that's not likely," said Kennard, whose father played in the NFL for 11 years, earning a Super Bowl ring with the Dallas Cowboys. "I need to speak with my family before I decide."

Kennard anticipates the doctor should clear him to walk without the aid of crutches within the next two weeks. His rehab will include workouts in the pool and on a stationary bike.

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys' and girls' basketball.