Murray follows in brother's footsteps on football field

TAMPA, Fla. -- There's no doubt they are related.

From the sunburned football field at Plant High School comes a sophomore quarterback with unlimited potential. The short passes are crisp and accurate; the long passes are picturesque with perfect rotation and height.

The uniform number is familiar (11), as is the last name, but Stephanie Murray is more than Aaron Murray's baby sister. As the quarterback of Plant's girls' flag football team, Stephanie is managing to follow in the steps of her big brother while carving her own identity.

The siblings are very close, and there was no greater evidence of that than during Aaron's commitment ceremony this past summer. As he read his speech, the mention of his sister brought tears to his eyes and a smile to her face.

"It was the best feeling because I was so proud of him," Stephanie said. "It felt good to know that we were as close as I thought we were."

Their playing styles are very similar as well. Stephanie lifts her leg before the snap, just as Aaron did for two seasons as the starting quarterback at Plant. She also is developing a quick release similar to her brother's.

"I was able to work with her a lot last year," Aaron said. "She's gotten very good in a short time, but she was always a great athlete."

But who is the better quarterback?

"He is," Stephanie said without hesitation. "He's got so much talent and he works so hard."

Aaron responded, "I don't know, she played last year as a freshman. She has this season and two more after this. She probably has a better arm than most of the guys on the varsity team."

Stephanie is posting huge numbers in her sophomore season. She threw eight touchdowns passes in a game earlier this season. Aaron holds the state prep record for touchdown passes in a season with 51, which he accomplished as a junior, and he has 84 career touchdown passes.

"It took me a while to throw eight touchdowns in a game," Aaron said. "There's a good chance she'll throw more touchdown passes in high school than I did."

Bo Puckett knows the Murrays' athletic exploits very well. He is the head coach of Plant's girls' flag football team and the defensive backs coach for the varsity football team. He sees similarities in the way the brother and sister prepare for the game and their competitive nature.

"They are both very coachable, and they both take preparation seriously," Puckett said. "I love their competitive nature. It's something that Aaron and his older brother Josh had, and now Stephanie has it. They want to be the best at whatever they do."

Athleticism runs in the Murray family. Their father, Denny, was a pitcher in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, and their mother, Lauren, ran track in high school. Josh, once one of the nation's top baseball prospects, was drafted in the second round by the Milwaukee Brewers at the age of 17 in 2002.

They also don't like being apart from one another. When Josh was going through the everyday rigors of playing minor league baseball, he couldn't help but think about his younger siblings. Eventually the separation became too much for him to handle, and he came home.

"I couldn't stand not seeing them grow up," Josh said. "I was traveling all the time and going through the daily grind. I just missed them and wanted to be there for support."

And now Josh will make sure Aaron doesn't go through the same separation issues. He will join his younger brother at Georgia in the fall to finish his degree and plans to walk on to the football team and play strong safety.

Until then, he is continuing his tradition of being the most emotional supporter of his siblings.

"Josh is definitely the loudest fan I have," Stephanie joked. "Sometimes he'll watch the games by himself because he gets so intense."

That intensity should serve him well at Georgia.

"He's definitely the craziest one," Aaron said. "He is going to make a good safety because he has a little edge to him."

They also are accomplished students. Josh and Aaron both graduated with high honors, while Stephanie "has never made a 'B' in her life," according to her mother.

The siblings are active with volunteer work and missionary trips. Stephanie is a peer adviser at Plant, and all three have spent considerable time working and mentoring disadvantaged children.

"Those are the things I'm most proud of," Lauren said. "I love their athletic accomplishments, but their commitment to academics and each other and people around them is what makes me happy as a parent."

Aaron regrets he hasn't seen any of Stephanie's games in person this season, but he continues to track her progress by watching her game tapes.

"I know she's playing real well right now, and I hope she's having fun," Aaron said. "She's having a good time right now."

Stephanie's future in flag football appears to be bright. She recently led Plant to its second consecutive District 10 championship. The Pantherettes, after a 34-24 win over Armwood, are poised to compete for a state title.

Also on the squad is Stephanie's favorite receiver, Rebecca Marve, younger sister of former Plant and University of Miami quarterback Robert Marve.

"We've been having a strong season, and we're starting to play well at the right time," Stephanie said. "Hopefully we will continue to get better and do well in the playoffs."

As for Aaron, his hope is that the siblings will be back together soon enough.

"It's going to be great to have Josh here," Aaron said. "He's not only my big brother, but he's my best friend. And hopefully when Stephanie is finished with high school, she'll enroll at Georgia, too."

Corey Long is a freelance writer in Florida.