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One of the biggest question marks surrounding the 2006 state champion Plant football team on replacing University of Miami-bound quarterback Robert Marve.
By BRYAN BURNS Times Correspondent
Published May 20, 2007
TAMPA - One of the biggest question marks surrounding the 2006 state champion Plant football team and its ability to repeat centers on replacing University of Miami-bound quarterback Robert Marve, recipient of the Florida Mr. Football award as the state's best player.
Judging from the performance of Marve's heir apparent in the Panthers' 26-0 victory over Blake in Thursday's spring game, rising junior Aaron Murray appears more than ready to fill those rather large shoes.
Murray passed for touchdowns of 14, 15, 24 and 65 yards and was 10-for-19 for 239 yards passing overall. He also rushed the ball three times for 32 yards while leading a Plant offense that looked eerily reminiscent of last season's juggernaut.
"He's going to carry us, " said senior wide receiver Derek Winter, who caught three of Murray's passes for 44 yards and a touchdown. "He made some big throws (in the spring game), and we hope it's kind of a preview of what's going to happen during the season."
Murray backed up Marve in 2006 and also played safety until he was sidelined with a torn labrum suffered when making a tackle in Plant's third game against Freedom. Murray spent the offseason rehabbing his shoulder and is "probably not back at 100 percent at this point, " according to coach Robert Weiner.
Murray should reach full strength during the summer, and Weiner is eager to see what the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Murray can do in the Panthers' offense once he's fully healthy.
"More than anything, he's got tremendous mental strength, " Weiner said. "He's an incredible worker with a strong arm, and he's learning how to make good decisions. He's also a strong, stout kid. He throws well on the run, and he's learned his way around the pocket while still playing quarterback, meaning his body remains in perfect position to make throws downfield while he's moving in the pocket."
Murray draws a number of comparisons to his predecessor with his ability to escape the rush and tuck the ball under his arm to run.
"Marve was a little shiftier avoiding tackles, but Murray can run, too, " Winter said. "He's big - he'll run you right over."
Murray will also benefit from having one of the top receiving corps in the state to throw to. In the spring game, Murray completed passes to five different receivers.
"We have some great receivers out there, some speedy guys, " Murray said. "Once you get them the ball, they're usually gone. ...It's kind of easy to just throw the ball up there and let a player like Derek Winter, who's probably the best receiver in the state, go get it."
Expectations surrounding Plant are high. Murray will be expected to step right in and lead the Panthers back to the playoffs having never started a game at the high school level.
But Murray isn't worried. And if Thursday's performance is any indication, he shouldn't be.
"There's pressure, but I love the pressure, " Murray said. "It makes me want to work hard. It makes me want to go out there and do my best."