ON MANY AFTERNOONS THIS SPRING, TAVARRES KING WOULD BE STUDENT-TEACHING HIS 10th grade American Government class at Clarke Central High in Athens when he'd receive a text from Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. "Let's go throw," Murray would write. "Meet me later." After the day's final bell at Clarke the senior wideout would head to the Bulldogs' practice field, where he'd find Murray with two footballs in his hands. Murray and King would then imagine that 100,000 screaming fans surrounded them and that an SEC game was on the line. King would run every kind of pattern—short, intermediate, long, over the middle, sideline fades—and Murray would attempt to hit King in stride. On some evenings they could be seen on the practice field playing their games of catch after sunset, two figures dashing through the darkness.
"I caught so many balls from Aaron this spring that it's just crazy," King says. "I want to have a drop-free season, and it all starts with those throwing-and-catching sessions with Aaron. Building that relationship with your quarterback is key to having success on game days. We'll work on routes, and if we're not on the same page and he's not hitting me in stride, we'll stay out there until we get it done right."
The 6' 1" 192-pound King again will be Murray's favorite target in 2012. Last season King led the Bulldogs in receptions (47) and touchdowns (eight), and was first in receiving yards (705). The Georgia staff was especially excited by King's performance in the Outback Bowl, when he torched Michigan State for 205 receiving yards on six catches—"even though," says Murray, "I actually missed him on a few throws when he was wide open."
"Tavarres is an outstanding deep ball guy and his route-running skills are excellent," says Bulldogs coach Mark Richt. "He's a complete receiver. He came in with A.J. [Green] and he certainly learned a lot from him."
King and Green—who made the NFL Pro Bowl last season as a rookie receiver for the Bengals—talk at least once a week. This spring King watched dozens of YouTube clips that feature Green's NFL highlights. "A.J. inspires me to work hard and try to get to another level," says King, who says he has run a 4.36 40. "We have a great wide receiver tradition here and hopefully I can continue it this season."
A native of Mount Airy, Ga., King was named the RISE Gatorade Georgia Football Player of the Year in 2007 after setting a state record with 1,632 receiving yards while a senior at Habersham Central High. He redshirted his freshman year in Athens and now has 27 career starts. King has also gotten things done in the classroom: He graduated in May with a degree in social studies education. ("I hope to teach or coach when I'm done playing football," he says.) And Murray believes that King already has an advanced degree in understanding the Georgia playbook.
"Tavarres knows what we're trying to do as well as anyone and, like A.J., he's really good at stepping on the defensive back's toes and getting the DBs to turn their hips," Murray says. "When that happens, Tavarres can do anything, and he'll definitely be open. He's also similar to A.J. in speed and breaking in and out of his cuts with amazing quickness."
If Georgia wins its first SEC title since 2005, the Murray-to-King connection so finely honed during those after-school sessions almost certainly will receive extra credit.