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A Cut Above
Murray is OU’s newest running back sensation

Scars on a man’s face are like pictographs, each telling a little story, revealing a little more about what they mean and who put them there.
DeMarco Murray’s story is about football.

Under one eye is the story of when two of his older brothers tackled him in the living room and slammed his cheekbone into a coffee table. The rear portion of his left ear is a bit jagged (no Mike Tyson joke here, although it did happened in Las Vegas, and about the same time Iron Mike began nibbling ears) because another brother ran him out of bounds into their mother’s television.

There’s another scar under the other eye — a matching set — but Murray doesn’t quite recall the story or the artist.

“It probably happened playing football, though,” he said.

“We always played tackle football in the living room, so I had carpet burns everywhere. We never really broke anything. There’s been like a couple of glasses on the table, things like that. But never nothing they ever found out about.”

Football continues to help define DeMarco Murray. He’s Oklahoma’s newest running back sensation, a scary-good blend of hi-def vision, quicksilver feet and straight-line speed that is making his mark — drawing his own pictograph — on an ancient wall already filled with intriguing stories.

After spending all of 2006 in redshirt with a foot injury, Murray has become one of the Sooners’ many offensive weapons, a potent blend of speed, quickness, strength and innate football intellect.

“Of course, he had a great highlight film and he was fast and he could jump,” said OU running backs coach Cale Gundy. “And he was a good person. He’s the kind of player we like.”

High Hoops

Football may best define Murray, but it was basketball that got him noticed by OU.
By now the story is famous in Sooner circles — the tale of Bob Stoops going to Las Vegas to make an in-home visit to Ryan Reynolds, who then was a senior linebacker at Bishop Gorman High School and now patrols the Sooner defense.

Stoops is on the Bishop Gorman campus, walking with then-head coach David White through the basketball gymnasium. White is reminded of the basketball team’s best player – the same guy who also might have been the football team’s best player.

Murray.

So White tells Stoops there’s something he wants him to see before he leaves. The team had gathered informally before practice, and Murray had just finished a routine slam dunk.
White walks up and says, “The Oklahoma football coach, Bob Stoops, who’s visiting Ryan tonight, is right over there. How ’bout you show him that dunk you just did? Won’t hurt.”

Murray, though, doesn’t want to. At first, he’s reluctant to show off. Then, after some coaxing, he wants to do another dunk.

“He was a little nervous at first,“ said White, now a Sooner graduate assistant. “He was kind of quiet. Not so much because he was afraid he’d miss it. He was just shy to do it. I said, ‘Just do it. But you can’t miss, though.’ He said, ‘No, no. If I do it, I’m not going to miss.’ So he got it. He got every bit of it. It was amazing.”

Asked to recount the dunk, Murray at first calls it “a little dunk.”

“Yeah, that’s him,” White says. “It was ‘just a little dunk.’ But it was a dunk that not too many 6-foot-5 people could make, let alone a 6-foot guy like him. He said he could do it, but for him to do it that one time — out of 10 times, he’s probably going to dunk it maybe twice. It wasn’t your basic dunk.”

Murray stands at halfcourt, throws the ball off the floor, bouncing it off the wall behind the backboard, over the backboard, off the floor again and catching it above the rim, where he’s in the middle of a 360-degree spin. He pounds the ball through the rim with one hand in a windmill motion.

First try.

“Coach Stoops just looked at me,” Murray said. “He didn’t say nothing. But after that, after the next year or whenever, when he offered me (a scholarship), he told me he knew right then that he was going to offer me.”

White had seen the dunk before, but was blown away.

“I was like, ‘Dude, what happens if you missed that? That’s a heck of a chance you just took,’” White said. “But that’s just his deal. DeMarco is one of those guys, if there’s three seconds left in the game and it’s on the line, he wants the ball. For him to do that, that’s his whole demeanor. It’s what he is — a competitor.”


On The Offensive

Maybe basketball got Murray noticed. But it was football that got him to OU. And nearly got him to USC.

“At first, (USC) wanted me as a running back, but then they were saying cornerback,” Murray said. “So I was a little confused with that. I really didn’t know until I came on my visit what they wanted me for. .I just kind of figured it out. I started talking to them a little more, and I figured they wanted me as a DB. I don’t mind playing defense, but I kind of wanted to play running back, and that’s what I was feeling at the time.”

As White said, that’s USC’s loss. Gundy and Stoops wanted him to play running back from day one.

Murray averaged more than 10 yards per carry as a senior at Bishop Gorman, when he ran for 1,924 yards and 27 touchdowns and caught 22 passes for 724 yards and seven TDs. True, he was a star at defensive back as well, making 64 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions his senior year — but his talent as a running back was unique.

“You never know what play he’s going to take to the house and score,” White said. “That’s just how he is. If something does break down in front, he’s so quick to spin out of it.

“He did amazing things, and he’s gotten a lot better since he got here.”

One of Murray’s blockers, OU center Jon Cooper, appreciates having Murray behind him. Cooper loves Murray’s speed and athletic ability, but said his best trait may be his uncanny vision, which can make up for missed blocks up front.

“He can see the backside cut if the backside linebacker is over-reaching. It’s impressive,” Cooper said. “Sometimes he might try to do too much. He might see something and not see something else. Sometimes he sees it all, and you won’t see it until you watch film. The coaches might be like, ‘Well, why you doing that?’ And he’s like, ‘Well, he was coming over here.’ You’re like, ’Wow, I didn’t even see that.’
Then the next day on film you’re like, ‘Sure enough. He was going over there.’”

Murray averaged 11.3 yards per play in OU’s three spring scrimmages. He did it again in a fall scrimmage, going for 109 yards on nine carries. In the Sooners’ season-opener against North Texas, Murray took his third collegiate handoff 44 yards for an end-around touchdown. He finished the day with five touchdowns and 100 all-purpose yards. Two weeks later, he ran for exactly 100 yards on just four carries, which included a 92-yard TD run, the third-longest in school history.

Then in OU's 28-21 win over Texas, Murray broke loose for 128 yards that included a 65-yard TD run.

“He definitely has a chance,” Gundy said, “to be a cut above.”

Sounds like another pictograph waiting to happen.

Editor's Note: This story appears in the latest issue of Sooner Spectator, on sale at newsstands now. To subscribe, call toll free 1-888-335-4385.