by George Stoia

by George Stoia

Chapter 8

Kyler Murray

Kyler Murray’s high school coach knew he’d be in New York. Now he is poised to potentially take home the hardware to prove it.

Chapter 8

Kyler Murray

Kyler Murray’s high school coach knew he’d be in New York. Now he’s about to take home the hardware to prove it.

As Baker Mayfield addressed the Oklahoma media for the final time following Oklahoma’s 54-48 double overtime loss to Georgia in last season’s Rose Bowl, Kyler Murray sat on the floor just feet away. His head hung, deep in thought.

“They are in great hands,” a somber Mayfield said that night in Pasadena as Murray sat to his left. “They have the best coach in the country, and Kyler is the best athlete in the country. They’re going to be just fine.”

Mayfield was right.

Now 341 days since that game, Oklahoma is sitting right back where it was a year ago, and Murray, arguably the Heisman Trophy favorite, is taking a walk in Mayfield’s shoes. First, in New York this weekend. Then, in the College Football Playoff seminal. He’s electrified the college football world in maybe his final season playing football and has the chance to bring home the hardware to show for it Saturday night. He’s etched his name in Oklahoma lore and his legacy may soon be set in bronze on Jenkins Avenue — something that’s been on his mind since he sat on that Rose Bowl locker room floor.

“I’ve prepared my whole life to lead a university to a national championship,” Murray said after the Rose Bowl. “It’s been a dream of mine to do that and do more.”

Now, he’s two wins away from clinching a national title and one night in New York from doing more.

“I’ve prepared my whole life…”

Trailing Coppell High School 13-7 going into the fourth quarter, then-Allen High School head coach Tom Westerberg made a decision. He sat his senior quarterback and put in a sophomore — a transfer from Lewisville — who had shown during mop-up duty in the previous five games a spark few have. The 16-year-old kid led Allen on a nine-play 68-yard drive to start the fourth quarter, ending with him finding the end zone on a four-yard run. On the ensuing possession, he broke a 49-yard touchdown run to give Allen a 21-13 edge in the final quarter.

This, of course, was Murray before anyone knew who he was.

Murray and the Eagles would go on to lose to Coppell in overtime that Friday night, 27-24. But Murray, who started every game of his high school career from then on, would still lead Allen to a state championship in 2012. Six years later, everyone in college football knows his high school accolades. Perfect 43-0 record as a starter. Three state championships. Gatorade Player of the Year. So on and so forth.

But Murray’s football career hasn’t always been one filled with success — one can look to College Station for the first example. Murray’s one season at Texas A&M was filled with ups and downs, earning the starting position midseason only to lose it a few games later and eventually transferring to OU where he sat for two years behind Mayfield.

“I thank Baker for sure. He doesn’t know it, but I thank him more than anyone,” Murray said Monday. “I’m appreciative that I did get to the opportunity to — obviously I’m a competitor and didn’t want to sit for the time that I did, but I don’t think I’d be here right now or playing the way I am if I didn’t get to see how it’s done.”

Murray gave Sooner Nation glimpses in 2017 of what was to come in 2018. His 87-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown against Tulane and his 65-yard run on the first play against West Virginia are prime examples. He stayed patient that 2017 season, and now he’s reaping the reward.

From taking over against Coppell in the fourth quarter to sitting behind Mayfield for a year to that scamper against West Virginia, Murray waited his turn. And now, in likely his only season at Oklahoma, he’s grabbed the attention of the nation just like his predecessor told the country months ago.

“He’s going to break all my records,” Mayfield told Bleacher Report in June. “He’s that good.”

Then-sophomore quarterback Kyler Murray carries the ball after then-senior quarterback Baker Mayfield passes the ball to him at the Rose Bowl Jan. 1. Caitlyn Epes/The Daily.
Then-sophomore quarterback Kyler Murray carries the ball after then-senior quarterback Baker Mayfield passes the ball to him at the Rose Bowl Jan. 1. Caitlyn Epes/The Daily.

“…to lead a university to a national championship…”

Again, Mayfield wasn’t wrong.

Murray has had one of the most memorable seasons to date, full of Heisman moments and statistics that will leave him among college football’s best for years to come. His choice to play one last season, despite being drafted No. 9 overall by the Oakland Athletics in the 2018 MLB Draft, has paid off — big time.

“I’ve been playing this game my entire life,” Murray said. “To leave this game with a bad taste in my mouth, after my freshman year at A&M, that’s just not who I am. I’ve worked my whole life for this. So for me, leaving after getting drafted was never an option.

“For the people that say I’m crazy for doing it, that’s just not who I am.”

Murray has been a human highlight reel this season. The bombs to Marquise Brown, the mesmerizing runs and the escape-artist esque scrambles have been plentiful. And he’s statistically having one of the greatest seasons in college football history.

Heisman Comparison

A comparison on Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa to QB Heisman Trophy winners since 2000.

“Just to watch it live — it’s like you’re watching a smaller Michael Vick,” said Jason White, who won the 2003 Heisman Trophy while at OU. “To have to fill the shoes of Baker Mayfield and what he’s done for the program, that’s a daunting task. And Kyler took it by the horns and ran with it. He’s exceeded my expectations.”

He’s on the verge of breaking Mayfield’s passing efficiency record (198.9), Russell Wilson’s total QBR record (94.2) and Sam Bradford’s total touchdown school record (55). He’s already passed Mayfield in total touchdowns (48) and yards in one less game (4,938).

But when fans look back at this season, it won’t be the stats or accolades they remember most, it’ll be the season-defining plays he made.

The 15-yard scramble against Florida Atlantic in Norman. The 67-yard against Texas at the Cotton Bowl. The fourth down conversion against West Virginia in Morgantown. And the game-sealing touchdown pass to Grant Calcaterra in the Big 12 Championship.

Those are the moments Murray will be remembered for.

“I pride myself on trying to come through for the team,” Murray said. “I just do my job the best I can do it.”

“…and do more.”

In September, former Allen offensive coordinator Jeff Fleener had his friend place a bet for him in Las Vegas. Fleener put $20 on Murray, who he coached from 2012-14, to win the Heisman.

The ticket from the bet Jeff Fleener placed.

“I just wanted the ticket that said ‘Kyler Murray for Heisman,’” Fleener said, who will be in New York for the ceremony after promising Murray he’d go if he made it. “I probably should have bet more money on him, to be honest… I knew he would be there.”

But it’s not about the money Fleener will win, yet the confidence he had in his quarterback.

And that’s why those that know Murray best, including himself, are not surprised he will be in New York Saturday night. His confidence in himself shines when his team needs him most. He’s been Oklahoma’s most valuable asset, feeling the pressure of being perfect week-in and week-out thanks to a defense that makes him have to respond nearly every time he touches the ball.

“You can look at stats all day long, but if you sit back and turn on the tape and watch Kyler play a game, watch Dwayne play a game and then watch Tua play a game,” White said, “which guy matters most for his team? And I think that’s easy to answer.”

There’s something that divides Murray from his competition. Tagovailoa and Haskins have undoubtly had great seasons, but Murray’s ability to put his team on his back every Saturday — those moments mentioned early — are what separate him from the pack.

“He’s a winner. He has that killer instinct. He’s the total package,” said former OU running back Billy Sims, who won the 1978 Heisman Trophy. “To me, he’s already won the Heisman.”

Owning a quiet personality with a loud game, Murray will nonchalantly enjoy New York City and Times Square over the weekend. It’s another opportunity for him to dress up (he told the media he will be wearing black on Saturday) and possibly give a short speech as he so often does.

But this is something he’s dreamed of, something he’s wanted since that night in Pasadena. While a goodbye may soon be coming, Saturday night won’t mark the end of his football career, it will instead celebrate the incredible season no one expected but himself.

“It went by quick,” Murray said. “For me, one season or a one-and-done type deal possibly, it’s been everything I dreamed of…

“And it’s all been worth it.”

Junior quarterback Kyler Murray looks for a teammate to throw the ball to during the game against UCLA Sept 8. Paxson Haws/Sooner Yearbook.