The long, two-sport Saturday in Kyler Murray’s quest to replace Baker Mayfield

The long, two-sport Saturday in Kyler Murray’s quest to replace Baker Mayfield

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NORMAN, Okla. — Kyler Murray‘s Saturday began at 9:15 in the morning with French toast.

It ended at 11:30 at night with a jar of oranges.

And in between, well, Murray had little time to eat anything else.

Good luck finding an athlete in college sports with more on his plate at the moment than Murray, who’s shouldering tremendous expectations and immense pressure across two sports.

In football, Murray has been fighting to hold off Austin Kendall this spring in Oklahoma’s quarterback derby while being tasked with succeeding Baker Mayfield, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and a predicted first-round NFL draft pick.

Over in baseball, Murray has been manning center field and batting cleanup for the Sooners, who entered the weekend atop the Big 12 standings.

“He’s trying to step into the shoes that Baker Mayfield left — and Baker is an OU legend — that’s not an easy thing to do,” Oklahoma tight end Grant Calcaterra said. “And then, on top of that, go play baseball and excel on a first-place team. That’s just ridiculous. I don’t know how he does it.”

After a grueling past two months that culminated with an extraordinarily taxing Saturday, Murray seemed to be starting to wonder how, too.

In the afternoon, he quarterbacked the Red squad to an overtime win over the White squad in Oklahoma’s spring football game at Memorial Stadium. Shortly after, Murray dashed less than two miles over to the baseball stadium, where the Sooners were set to clash with rival Texas in the second game of a crucial series for conference supremacy.

“I’m feeling it in my legs,” Murray said late Saturday night while scooping oranges out of an oversized jar. “Not so much mentally, but obviously physically. I’m not too tired yet, but I’ll feel it, I’m sure, in a couple days.”

With that, Murray didn’t have his best on the gridiron or the diamond Saturday.

Battling 30-mph winds with even stronger gusts, he completed only 11 of 21 passes for 85 yards and rushed for a rather empty 35 yards, with the defense barred from touching him. As a result, Murray failed to engineer a touchdown drive through the first and only half of the competition portion of the scrimmage.

On his first possession, Murray had a prime opportunity to electrify the Sooners’ spring-game crowd of more than 50,000, which braved 30-degree, wind-chilled weather to see what Mayfield’s heir apparent had in store for them. Receiver A.D. Miller had beaten the White team’s secondary down the middle of the field for what appeared to be an easy touchdown. Instead, Murray’s heave died in the wind at the goal line, allowing a pair of defenders to recover and bat the pass away.

After the two sides finished in an uninspiring 3-3 tie, head coach Lincoln Riley unexpectedly called for overtime, which allowed Murray’s Red team to prevail on a Marcelias Sutton 18-yard scoring scamper.

“There were a couple drives where we moved the ball well, then we’d kind of stall out,” Murray said. “Obviously, as a quarterback, you don’t want to do that. You want to put points up as many times as you can.”

Even though Murray didn’t put up the points on Saturday, the Sooners have been privately optimistic that with him running the show, they won’t skip much of a beat offensively despite graduating a Heisman Trophy winner who headlined the nation’s top offense on the way to leading them to the College Football Playoff.

While Murray doesn’t have Mayfield’s arm strength or precision, he does boast home run speed, which, paired with bruising running back Rodney Anderson, could give the Sooners a devastating ground attack. And Murray can be a capable passer, which figures to only be enhanced by the return of wideouts Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb and emergence of Calcaterra as a flexed-out tight end.

Last season, as Mayfield’s backup, Murray completed better than 85 percent of his passes for 359 yards and rushed for another 142.

“We’re two totally different people,” Murray said of he and Mayfield. “But, obviously, he’s one of the best to ever do it here and in college football. It was great to watch him for however long I did. … I just keep grinding and proving myself every day.”

As he grinds in football, Murray has been proving himself and more in baseball.

Previously the first athlete to play in both the Under Armour All-America football and baseball national high school all-star games, Murray has seen his pro baseball stock soar this spring. Showcasing unforeseen power, Murray is second on the Sooners in home runs, with five, and leads them with five stolen bases. Murray came into the weekend batting .355 in Big 12 play with a sparkling on-base percentage of .488.

Yet with his mind inevitably looking ahead to the spring game, Murray went 0-for-5 in a 7-6 loss to Texas on Friday night. Then, worn out from the spring game, Murray went 0-for-5 once more in Saturday’s 5-3 defeat.

“He might have been a little bit tired,” said Oklahoma baseball coach Skip Johnson, who a couple of weeks ago told Murray to go rest in the clubhouse after the Sooners had jumped to a big middle-inning lead; an inning later, Johnson found Murray out cold in a recliner, the effects of a football practice from earlier in the day. “But he’s a competitive kid. That’s what you like about him.”

Despite juggling both sports, Murray went through spring ball without missing a single football practice. And, with Riley and Johnson coordinating with one another, Murray has been able to start 31 of Oklahoma’s 38 baseball games.

His struggles against Texas aside, Murray’s prowess at the plate has actually been generating anxiety in the Sooner State about his pro prospects. Depending on what happens in this summer’s MLB draft, it could ultimately derail Oklahoma’s lofty plans for him at quarterback.

One baseball scout who was in Norman to watch Murray, among others, Saturday told ESPN.com that Murray “is definitely on the list” of MLB teams and, without speculating on which round he might get drafted, added that Murray “could have a tough decision to make” this summer.

College baseball analyst Kyle Peterson was even more direct during ESPNU’s broadcast of the Red River game.

“From a scout’s standpoint, when you look at Kyler Murray, you see potential — and a ton of it,” Peterson proclaimed. “The power potential is there. You can’t teach power. You can’t teach speed. He has both of those things, and when he has chance to play this game on a consistent basis. … He’s not a premier defender yet in center [Murray played shortstop in high school]. But you can teach him to be a premier defender in center field because he has the speed most people don’t have.

“Is there a possibility Kyler Murray gets enough money, enough of an offer from a major league club that he says, ‘You know what — sorry, Sooners, I’m out of here’? I don’t know. I tell you one thing with absolute certainty: There’s a significant future for him in this game. I don’t know when. But he’s an exciting prospect. And to me, as exciting a prospect in the outfield as we have in college baseball just because the upside is so good.”

In discussing Murray’s pro baseball upside, Johnson went as far as invoking the name of MLB All-Star Andrew McCutchen.

For all the budding hype, Murray said that he’s “not worried right now” about the baseball draft. Riley, however, confessed that he has already “had some discussions” about it with Murray and his family.

“We’ve been open and honest with each other on that and comfortable about where we’re at,” Riley said without offering any details.

Murray could theoretically sign a pro baseball contract this summer and still return to play quarterback for the Sooners in the fall, in the mold of Russell Wilson. Or, if the price is right, he could move on solely in baseball.

Either way, it’s a busy and stressful time for Murray, who noted one of the biggest challenges for him this spring has been finding the time to take in enough calories.

The baseball team did have sandwiches out before the Texas game. But they had mayonnaise, which Murray can’t stand. “I don’t like to eat before games a lot anyway,” he said.

So, after going through a spring game and then a baseball game on a belly of only French toast, Murray had his oranges — with plans to eat an entire delivery pizza at home before getting a few hours of sleep and returning to the diamond again for another day.

MLB News

via http://www.espn.com – MLB http://www.espn.com

April 16, 2018 at 07:01AM

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