By now, it’s not news that Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray is playing both baseball and football for the Sooners. Some days he’s in the outfield for Pete Hughes, other times he’s lining up at quarterback for Bob Stoops and Lincoln Riley.
Then there are some days where he’s doing both, illustrated last week where Murray was a quarterback working with the football squad before joining OU in the dugout for the series vs. Texas Tech.
Back-to-back days of football practice/scrimmage before heading to the diamond. It’s more than a novelty act, but is it starting to wear down on Murray?
“I would say it's tough, but I'm thankful for Coach Riley and Coach Hughes,” said Murray last week. “The way they work it out and the plan they've set for me, I couldn't be more grateful. It could be worse. I could put it that way. It could be worse, but the plan they've laid out for me, it's pretty good on my part and their part so it's been working out so far.”
This weekend is the epitome of that dual-sport role. Murray is bussing with the baseball team Thursday as the top 10-ranked Sooners head to Austin to take on Texas. He’ll be there for Friday’s game before flying back to Norman for Saturday’s Red-White spring football game and then head back to Austin to close out the three-game set vs. the Longhorns on Sunday.
Hughes hasn’t had a problem with it, and it’s clear Riley and Stoops have done all they can to accommodate Murray. He has full support.
“I like the fact that he’s out there competing,” Riley said. “It’s a different challenge for him and he’s had to rise up and do it. The pain of it is the travel for him and the preparation of it for us. I don’t care about us. He’s handling all that with having different hours and being pulled in different directions.
“The great thing here is I don’t feel like it’s taken anything away from him football wise. He’s still progressing and right where I hoped he would be right now.”
There’s so many layers to the Murray story, starting out with his legendary career as the quarterback at Allen (Texas) High. Following an uneven freshman season at Texas A&M, Murray announced his transfer to OU on Christmas Eve 2015.
He knew he would have to sit out a year, but at the time, the 2016 season was going to be the final one for quarterback Baker Mayfield.
It wasn’t until the summer when the Big 12 reversed its ruling on Mayfield and granted that lost year of eligibility back. Mayfield will be entering his third year as the OU starter, while Murray? He’s playing the waiting game and hoping for that opportunity.
“From day one when I left A&M, I knew I was going to sit out a year,” Murray said. “I wouldn't say a fresh start, but it was kind of like a fresh start when I got here just from the standpoint of gaining everybody's trust here. They accepted me really well so I wouldn't say the mindset changed or anything just coming in here trying to gain these dudes' trust, these guys' trust and working hard.”
The natural inclination for Murray, because of Mayfield being back and the quality of the OU quarterback room going forward with Austin Kendall and Chris Robison, is to assume he might move to another spot.
Murray said he hasn’t been asked one time to switch, and he hasn’t given it one single thought on it. His answer is simple – he’s a quarterback.
A quarterback who can do some things just a little bit differently than some of those other guys. Murray said he ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash in the winter and says he’s the fastest on the football team.
That speed has been demonstrated with Hughes’ club as Murray is far and away the leader in stolen bases with eight compared to being thrown out once. All the more impressive is the fact the next closest player has four stolen bases when Murray has only played in 15 of OU’s 32 games, missing significant time with a hamstring injury last month.
“I’m a firm believer that if God’s blessed the guy with talent to do something else, to go ahead and use that talent,” said Stoops last month. “As long as you’re able to handle it academically, that’s a big deal and not take away from the player you want to be on the football field as well.”
What remains to be seen right now is whether Murray’s future is on the gridiron or the diamond. Eventually he’ll come to that fork in the road because it’s happened before in Norman.
Way back when with former wide receiver Brandon Jones, well, he was more of a football player than a baseball guy.
Flip that with former quarterback Cody Thomas. Turns out he was more of a baseball guy than a football player and is now faring very well with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
That moment of clarity hasn’t happened with Murray yet. His baseball numbers aren’t spectacular, hitting at a .188 clip with 15 strikeouts in 40 at-bats. But he has been walked 11 times and has nearly 30 percent of the team’s total stolen bases (8 of the 28).
Murray’s quarterback future is unknown. What he can do on the baseball field remains to be determined. But he’s not worried about it, at least not now. After sitting out a full year, he’s just happy to be back doing what he loves.
“Like I said, just being able to play,” Murray said. “You know, you sat for a year and you see everybody having fun. You're having fun. You're in it, but you're not in it, you know? Just being able to play and touch the field, I can't be mad. Like I said, just having the opportunity to play baseball and football at a major DI level is a great opportunity.”