Soul Behind the 11

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As a mom of a son who often wears a number 11 jersey I tend to notice the other countless little boys who support our fearless quarterback by sporting his number. And as the last couple years have gone by I have often wondered if these little boys know what they are truly supporting when they wear the red, black & 11.

A young leader myself- taking over a not for profit organization at the age of 20 just 8 years ago- I am always intrigued by the drive behind the face. The last couple years I have been simply swept away as I’ve seen first-hand the story # 11 continues to write. The arm is firm, the mind is wise, the heart is a leader but the soul has made a difference. aaronandbekkah

Four years ago 11 said “yes” to the call to escort children with disabilities on-stage to help celebrate what the children CAN do instead of what they can’t. The challenge was to make each child feel special on stage at our annual Big Hearts event.  The challenge was very much accepted:  11 bowed to the young ladies in wheelchairs, kneeling to get on their level; he kissed the cheeks of sweet girls with Downs syndrome who long to be treated as ladies; he passed footballs to young boys who may miss- yet made them appear as champions. And when the event was over, 11 was the last to leave with a bag of trash in hand.

Year after year 11 humbly accepted the challenge. And while he put on a show-stopping act on stage that made the kids feel worthy & special- the scene backstage was far greater. The genuine hugs, fist pumps, whispers of encouragement, the late nights and the absent complaints…. all to provide a special night for the children who deserve it most.

Whether on stage, after practice or at the kids favorite place- ESP- #11 has met them with grace. In a recent interaction on the practice field- a young girl, Emily, wheeled up to 11 and gleaned her giant smile. aaronandemily He looked at her for one moment and proudly stated, “Emily, you changed your hair color! I love it!” A freezing statement. The accuracy of the assessment of Emily is one that takes men 20 years of marriage to master. Yet, it was an incidence of many showing that 11 didn’t care about the number on his jersey or the photograph that was being taken of him. Number 11 cared for Emily. He cared for each of the 55 children who stood at the sidelines of practice cheering him on. And as the minutes passed on and the children surrounded,  # 11 kneeled to each child, looking them in the eyes and treating them as if they mattered. Because they mattered to him.

aaronandkidsAnd as the last 4 years have passed the most amazing part of the story is that it’s no longer just #11. It’s  #88, # 31, #82 and the list could go on.  As circles of players surround one boy Kaleb after practice singing beats to his favorite song, “she’ll be comin around the mountain” they smiled watching Kaleb’s pure joy in their involvement and focus on him. You see, the team has watched the example of their leader, #11. And in doing so have learned the power in giving.

kalebandplayersAnd as the mom who is ever answering her 5 year-olds football questions, I was struck by the definition of quarterback. So often the focus is on the field, one who- “lines up immediately behind the center & directs the offense of the team.”

As the nation knows, #11 has done his job on Saturdays well.

But what sets #11 apart from the other men across the nation is the whole definition, “a person who leads or directs a group” # 11 is more than an arm, more than a quick mind, more than a handsome face or a leader on the field. # 11 has written a story, here in Athens, far greater than points on a scoreboard. He is a man who gives time & attention to those who are often stared at & forgotten. A man who has helped his team to change their perspective & use their position to engage. He is a soul that chose to use what he had to give to something greater than himself. aaron.mark.&kids

And so, little boys, may your #11 jersey not retire after this season. Instead #11 should be a reminder that one soul chose to use his number to make a difference. May it be a challenge to the numbers that follow and to us fans who all have something, anything, to give back what we have been given. May the nation know and emulate you- Aaron Murray-  as your soul of servitude speaks much louder than your number. 20131123-073537.jpg   quar·ter·back noun 1.a back in football who usually lines up immediately behind the center and directs the offence of the team. 2. the position played by the back. 3. a person who leads

*Laura Whitaker is the Executive Director of Extra Special People- a place where children & young adults with developmental disabilities don’t just exist, they thrive. For more information visit www.extraspecialpeople.com or to make a contribution in Aaron’s honor visit HERE.

80 thoughts on “Soul Behind the 11

  1. Tears flowed as I read your words and tears of joy that Hannah and I had the opportunity to know such an incredible young man, and ….tears that he will be leaving Athens.

    • Laura,

      The tears are still rolling down my face as I’m trying to get ready for Aaron’s last home game. I was not much of a football fan or even a Georgia fan until I witnessed at the Big Hearts Banquet what Aaron did for yours kids at ESP? Someone who spends their Saturday nights making your kids smile and make their day put a special place in my heart. I’ve been an Aaron Murray fan since. It didn’t matter to me if he played for Georgia, although that was a plus but he was special in my heart because of what he did for ESP.

      I am all decked out in my black because Aaron wanted a blackout. Believe me, me heart will go out to him tonight as he plays his last home game at Sanford Stadium. He is a very special young man who has a super big heart.

  2. I don’t if I can comment. I am crying and amazed at him and at you. The words, the content, the heart and the love for an of Aaron is so defined. I love it and honestly, if one person in this world can make me go back on a promise to myself, it would be him. I now will have to “bark”.
    I love you Laura and I love Aaron and am so thankful for what he gave and for what he will continue to give in his life.

  3. Truer words have never been written. Everyone in Elberton knows how much our sweet Bekkah loved him!

  4. Tears of amazement that he noticed that about my girl. She will forever remember how special he made her & her friends feel. You will be missed Aaron Murray. Thank you for the many gifts you have given! May God continue to bless your journey.

  5. Aaron has been and probably will always be a great representative of his parents love. The fact that he lives the way he gives is a tribute to his beliefs.

  6. Thank you, thank you for writing this & letting the world know about Aaron Murray! What a QB….what a man…..WHAT CHARACTER!! UGA has been mightily BLESSED to have Aaron at the helm for these past several years. I personally cannot WAIT to see what’s in store for him next! We all will miss him every Saturday next season & beyond!

  7. Every time I see the #11 I think of Aaron. When it is GA and another team I always want GA to win because of #11 and his coach. I don’t care for football but want GA to win each time. #11 has been a true inspiration to all at UGA. Thanks for caring #11…may your life be blessed the way you have blessed each one at ESP…..

  8. What a great role-model for our young people! We wish you the very best for your future which, there is no doubt, will be stellar.

  9. God Bless You Aaron Murray! I had a great deal of respect for you before I read this, now I have even more. .

  10. “It is not titles that honour men, but men that honour titles.”
    ― Niccolò Machiavelli Such can be said of Aaron Murray.

  11. As the sibling of a Down syndrome child, I have been blessed with the truest form of unconditional love. I’m sure #11 feels that he is the lucky one for the blessing these children enriched him with. I dare say never has a finer man of character stood between our beloved hedges than our #11 and our coach. Thank you, DGD’s.

  12. What a wonderful tribute to Murray and all the Ga. Dawgs who take the time from their schedules to make a difference in the lives of these kids! There’s a special place in heaven for the likes of y’all!

  13. As I read this I like others have tears strolling down my face,.. Tears of pride and greatfullness to people like Laura and Aaron.. I hope to take this and d mre for others.. this is my comittment..Thank you Aaron and Laura for all you do as leaders and as someone God has chosen to bless others..May God Bless..

  14. Thank you #11. What a special man. May your legacy carry on forever! I hope more youngrn follow in your footsteps.

  15. Thank you #11. What a special man. May your legacy carry on forever! I hope more young men follow in your footsteps.

  16. As a mother of an ESP’er. I to would like to express my gratitude to Aaron for leaving a great lasting impression on our families. From escorting our daughters on stage at The Big Hearts Pageant, to autographing footballs for our sons. I wish you nothing but the best Mr. Murray!

  17. A touching tribute for our beloved #11. This is just the beginning for Aaron Murray and the lives he will touch. Always proud to be a Bulldog!

  18. Dgd for sure! This story made me shed some happy tears for sure. I will miss seeing Murray every Saturday. This guys heart is truly amazing and he leaves a legacy behind him. Best of luck

  19. Just licked the tears off my finger that was touching my face. Hope to see Mr. Murray, again on the sideline at Georgia , Couch Murray. After a successful, NFL career.

  20. What an incredible young man and written beautifully by Laura. He will be an inspiration to many young people. Thank you #11 for all the great years you gave all the DAWG fans and for the inspiration you gave to your teammates.

  21. As a fan for the first time this year I was amazed at Aaron’s leadership, determination, and heart on the field. It made me a fan after watching the first game. Reading your words and learning about him off the field leads me to know that he is a truly remarkable person to so willingly give of his time, not for the glory, but for the way it affects others. He is a true artist and leaves an amazing legacy of his time at GA.

  22. Tears flowing freely and so grateful for Aaron and all that he has done on and off the field. Aaron you are a Dawg LEGEND!!

  23. It is very obvious,from this article that Aaron Murray is a caring person,not about self but for others less fortunate. The great thing about a person with this kind of character is he won’t change. A true leader leads on the field and off the field because he is ginuine
    , our prayers go with him for a speedy recovery and rehab, yes I’m a 67 year old man and the tears flowed unashamedly

  24. I HAVE RYAN, A “SPECIAL NEEDS” ANGEL IN MY FAMILY, BUT MOST OF ALL HE IS IN MY HEART. GOD GIVES US THESE ANGLES TO LOVE ON. WITHOUT A DOUBT GOD GIVES THEM THE ABILITY TO LOVE AND THE KNOWLEDGE TO NO THAT YOU LOVE THEM. YOU CAN’T LOVE ON THEM TOO MUCH !!!!!

  25. Thank you for sharing this insight into Aarons life that many of us wouldn’t have known. What a wonderful thing for him to be involved with. And to see his lead being followed by other players, that’s really a wonderful thing indeed.

    In a age where so many are all about ‘look at me!’ it’s refreshing to see a young man who understands there is far more to life than what happens between the white lines of a football field.

    Murray is indeed a class act!

    • Better indeed and longer lasting. We have been blessed to have had such fine young men wearing the red and black. I’m more proud of this than any win UGA has ever had!

  26. I love to read the songs of the unsung, and to be blessed by the knowledge of the contributions young men like Aaron Murray make off the field. Laura thank you for sharing. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Bekkah’s Mom and Dad, who had to release their gift from God back to Him, knowing they will see her again. And prayers for Aaron’s speedy rehab and recovery will be lifted up as well.

  27. What an amazing young man.You have touched so many lives and you will always be l
    oved. We will miss you. Hope you have a speedy recovery.My prayers are with you.

  28. Most possibly the reason he is # 11 is because being # 1 Is not enough to describe his character. He has to be 2 #1′s rolled up into 1.

  29. Thank you so much for sharing this. I married into the Georgia Football fandom, but I truly love this young man and the example he has set for others.

  30. I have a 15 month old son with a #11 jersey :) I pray he follows #11s footsteps and is a young man with a bigger heart than himself ♡
    I pray a speedy recovery for Aaron.
    What a beautiful story

  31. As a sister to a Down’s Syndrome…..I’m simply amazed how Mr. Murray shows such passion to these children and on the field…God Bless you always….I know he will….Thank you for all that you are and all that you do!

  32. Very well spoken. I have seen first hand Aaron at the Big Hearts Banquet. He is an amazing young man. I am a grandmother to an angel with special needs, and it always warms my heart to see a gentleman take time to speak to her. He will be missed at Georgia, but he leaves a legacy that lives on in the lives of some very special people. Thanks for sharing.

  33. As a father of 2 children with Down Syndrome, I was moved by the picture I saw on ESPN one week. As Aaron Murray walked into the stadium he stopped dead in his tracks and ran over to the ropes holding back the crowd. Expecting to see him hug a family member or old friend I was amazed when I saw the object of his attention; a young lady with Down Syndrome! Her eyes lit up like fireworks as he hugged her and spend several moments talking to her. Now I know where he met this young lady! As hard as it is for this Florida Gator fan to say this, I am a fan of Aaron Murray!

  34. This story really touched my heart. As a teacher of students with special needs, I understand the heart to make a difference in the lives of this population of people. I always admired Aaron’s work ethic on the field. He is truly a young man who gave it all until the clock ran out. This story made me proud to know he was just as remarkable off the field. The heart of this young man and his ability to lead will never be forgotten.

  35. Want to know what makes a grown man cry? The subject, the writing, the message, that’s what. I knew Aaron was special outside of football, but I did not know just how special. His parents instilled something so very special in him, and to their credit, he listened and learned whatever it was. Perhaps something so simple as “compassion”.
    Special people have special places in this world and beyond. Aaron Murray is one of those. He has set the bar high for his teammates and his peers. UGA should be so lucky to have his impression create a lasting line of those who learned from him.
    I believe everything happens for a reason. His injury was perhaps to avoid something worse. He will have time to reflect on his career here, but the reflection will be minor to what he has contributed as a man. Hopefully, he will heal quickly and get on with what life will be about for him. His intellect and devotion to excellence, should make for one great coach, like CMR. He is small for the NFL, but his heart could make a remarkable difference. It will be nice to follow his career, and a privilege.
    Thank you for this article and informing me of just how special he is.

  36. I have always wanted a #11 Georgia Football Jersey. They are hard to find in Washington state where we retired after my husband served 20 years defending his country. But after reading this, I know now that #11 is more than a great football player but a player with so much more to him that what he gives on the football field. He is a fine young man, a credit to his family and parents and to the University of Georgia. What a credit to the number 11 to have belonged to such a great PERSON. Way to go, Aaron. You make so many people proud of you.

  37. Aaron Murray you are absolutely the best! As a Dawg fan all my life I have seen many special Ga football players, and we have had many. Aaron, you are so special on and off the field…a true leader. I hope you heal quickly because we have so much to look forward to as we watch you in the future. For all the children whose lives you have touched A BIG THANK YOU!

  38. Wow! What an amazing young man! #11 heart is revealed.

    May the gifts God has blessed you with continue to manifest God’s love to everyone He places in your life!

  39. Aaron I had no idea what u did off the field! I work with special needs kids at the high school and to find out u spend your time working with them is awesome! You are a great person on the field and off the field!! Thank you Aaron Murray for what you are doing!! Hope u recover real soon so u can continue your great work !! Your parents should be so proud !! This article made me cry but in a good way it’s so awesome what your doing with those kids keep it up and Go Dawgs!!

  40. #11 is such an inspiration to us all and like all of the “special angels” that God has sent to live among us, God has a purpose for him as well. I know in my heart that God has great plans for him even if they do not include football at this time. I am certain that he will continue on in life and welcome God’s ultimate plans for him. I thank you for the incredibly written story and I thank God for the heart and soul of this young man. May God continue to shine his blessings on everything you both do.

  41. As a Gamecock fan, for 4 years now, I’ve always noticed and admired how Aaron handles himself at his team’s football games (before, during and after) – not only with class but morally straight and always at peace, regardless of the out-come of the game. These kind of things speaks volumes of the character of the young man in Georgia colors.

  42. Thank you Laura for writing such a lovely declaration. Aaron has blessed our community in so many ways. Aaron has a great number of admirers within the ESP community because of his sweet smile and willingness to be involved with our children/young adults.

  43. Being a Georgia football lettermen I have had the privilege of being around Aaron many times and he has always made me proud to be a DAWG. I really feel for him and the team for the misfortunes this season. They had one of the toughest season in Dawg history and never gave up. Aaron put the team on his shoulders many times with most starters out and never missed a beat. Thanks to Aaron and all of the seniors. We are proud of you. Welcome to the lettermen’s club for ever!! We will see you back in Athens for many years to come.

  44. What a wonderful tribute to a truly outstanding young man. I have always had a special place in my heart for “extra special people” ; it is so awesome that #11 and other Dawgs do too! Just another reason to be Thankful….for our future leaders to be of the caliber of these men and for Mark Richt to be the kind of man he is to guide these boys into manhood. Many prayers going up for Aaron and his family and for a quick and sucessful recovery.

  45. What a fine gentleman. As a Bulldog it was hard to admire Tim Tebow but I did, now we have our own hero. God bless Aaron and speedy recovery. We love you.

  46. As someone with a Bama and Hurricane allegience, I found myself making time to see every single Bulldog game. Yes, I knew Aaron’s mom as a little girl, but there was something besides that familiarity that elevated #11 to a higher plane than “just a quarterback” to me. Now , after Laura’s writing, it is so evident how very special Aaron is to many people. It is obvious that his parents did everything right. I only wish that he will be a roll model to many of today’s young men and women. May his future be all he expects, and may he heal ASAP.

  47. I’m not normally much of a football fan, but to see the children who idolize ANY player, and to see that that player puts others before himself, is a Praise from GOD. Thanks and bless you #11.

  48. Giants come in all shapes, and sizes. These Giants work from Offices, Gridiorns, from behind the scenes, and totally transparent. That Aaron Murray is a Giant among Giants both on, and of the field. With this latest set back he will perservier.

  49. I am a football guy from way back. I ran through my county when in youth football in my early years and have followed College Game closely. I attended the great University of Georgia from 1981-1985 and actually had a freshman English class with Herschel and Dan Magill’s wife our professor. Did I mention I go way back? I’ve followed the Dawgs closely over these 30+ years with season tickets and long travel to bowl games! New Orleans to Jacksonville, to La, to TN etc, etc, I’ve had many proud moments as a Dawg and some not so proud. I follow the recruiting trail and take off that first Wednesday in February to see them announce their decision on ESPN. I almost jumped in my car a couple years ago to go find JHC letter of intent and fax it back to CMR to get him committed, then I realized probably better to let his family manage that one.
    I’ve been elated when we got a verbal commitment from some and then couldn’t wait until they were escorted out of town, I’ve watch the 2-3 star recruit given that LOI, second guess CMR’S decision and see him turn into a 5 star athlete.
    In other words, I’ve followed this game, followed College Football and more importantly the University of Georgia for 40 years and have been so proud to have many athletes commit AND play for UGA. At this point, having seen and watched AARON MURRAY over the past 5 years I can think of NONE I am more proud to say “He played for UGA” and was a tremendous student athlete.
    When he gets his wheel repaired, and he will, when I see him play on Sunday and some of our College Football enemy fans follow that Pro team and yell and pull for Aaron as a football player, I’ll have a little wry smile knowing the CHARACTER he has above and beyond his athletic ability.
    Godspeed Aaron Murray in repair of that Bionic knee and reaching the success in LIFE you so surely deserve. Thank you for being a Dawg!

  50. I read with great joy and tears aflowing of Laura Whitaker’s tribute to Aaron Murray. As as I know, I am not related to Ms Whitaker but I wish I were! Such moving words to express the love,gratitude and thankfulness for a true All-American, #11 Aaron Murray.
    My soul has been uplifted in a way I can’t even begin to describe. My Thanksgiving is now truly a day of Thanks!

  51. Aaron we all wish the best for you, not because you want it but because you’ve earned it! Not only are you the best quarterback ever, but you are a special, caring leader who will be remembered not just for your talents, but for your spirit and your soul. A champion? Without a doubt!!!

  52. Although I am a loyal Georgia Tech fan, I have to say that I am, and have been for some time, very impressed with Aaron Murray – as a gifted quarteback for sure, but even more as a fine young man who is obviously a leader on and off the field. It does the heart good to know that there are athletes out there that don’t let their success go to their head and who understand what’s really important in life. I was so very sorry that he got injured in his last home game and I wish him a full and speedy recovery so I can cheer him on at the next level regardless of which NFL team he ends up playing for.

  53. I’ll be reading Romans 12-12 and remember my Hope in Christ
    and those who remind me. Yes there is Joy to be had at the very
    time I’ m in need of it. God Bless and many THANKS.

  54. This was one of the most wonderful stories of the BEST quarterback that UGA has ever had. What a giving spirit along with tremendous talent. God sees what he has done for others and will bless him immensely as he leaves college and goes on to the pros. We will miss you Aaron Murray and we appreciate your strong arm and tremendous giving spirit.
    God bless you

  55. As I read this moving tribute to a wonderful young man, I was reminded of the children’s book “Charlotte’s Web.” In the book, Charlotte. a spider, wants to help her friend, a young pig named Wilbur, to avoid the slaughterhouse. So she weaves words into her web like “Some Pig,” “Terrific.” “Radiant” and “Humble.” Everyone marvels at what a remarkable pig Wilbur is and he is saved. In the story, however, nobody comments on what a remarkable spider Charlotte is.
    Arron is a truly remarkable young man. But I couldn’t help thinking that such a tribute shows what a remarable Mom Aaron had, and I believe that made all the difference.

  56. I’ve read this several times since it was first published and it never ceases to bring tears to my eyes. What an awesome guy our #11!! It was never about him! Wishing him nothing but the absolute best in the future!

  57. Even this huge Gator fan has much respect for AM as a player and a person. He is going to be a great pro, would love to see him in Jacksonville next year.

  58. Thanks for the time you took to share this with all of us. Been a Dawg fan for a long time. My father was a UGA graduate, 1940. He died three years ago, but got to see Aaron play at his beginning. He was always a supporter. So good to see this side of Aaron. It seems so natural that he does these things for his community. Have two sons, they both admire AM very much. So sorry he was hurt, but he’ll be back soon, stronger than ever.. We can’t wait.

  59. On of the best examples that i have seen of the expression “when the going gets tough the tough get going”.We would all be blessed to be on his team.

  60. Dear Aaron,

    As you now know, life is sometimes difficult. Losses on the field, injuries and uncertainty are a part of being an adult. I am so proud of the example you set while attending The University of Georgia. I may never have a chance to thank you for all you hard work both on and off the field, but please know that what you are doing means so much to us alumni. You represent the highest ideals of the community and university. In whatever or wherever life takes you, you made a difference in these beautiful people’s life and I hope that you know I appreciate you. You represent your parents and your family with class and integrity.

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