NEW YORK — All throughout his heralded junior football season at Oklahoma, two-sport star Kyler Murray opined on the myriad ways lessons learned on the baseball diamond had paid off for him.
But it was what the gridiron taught him on June 2, 2016, that sent him on a collision course toward his crowning achievement in Times Square on Saturday night. Two years ago, Murray’s patience, trust and faith were all tested.
This weekend, they were rewarded.
In what could be his final season playing college football, Murray on Saturday was named the country’s top player, honored with the Heisman Trophy. After throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns this season, he beat out fellow quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama and Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State.
Murray is the seventh player to win the Heisman in Oklahoma history, tying the Sooners with Notre Dame and Ohio State for the most winners by a school.
“This is crazy. This is an honor. Something that I’ll never forget, something I’ll always treasure for the rest of my life,” Murray said during a speech in which he praised his family, teammates, coaches, trainers and nutritional staff for helping him accomplish the feat.
As crazy as the win was to Murray, it may have been even crazier for those who followed Alabama all season. In August, just before Nick Saban named him the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback, Tagovailoa was the betting favorite to win the Heisman. He remained the favorite up until earlier this week, when suddenly oddsmakers favored Murray.
The shift coincided with Murray’s surge down the regular-season stretch as the Sooners turned to him and its offense to bail out a leaky defense. Tagovailoa also picked a bad time to have his worst game of the season, throwing two interceptions in the SEC championship game against Georgia and leaving early with a sprained ankle.
By Saturday’s ceremony, Tagovailoa ditched the boot and scooter he had been using all week to get around.
“It showed that we had tremendous progress with how we were moving within our treatment, and I was able to get the thumbs-up to go ahead and get out of the boot,” said Tagovailoa, who expects to play in the College Football Playoff semifinal against No. 4 Oklahoma on Dec. 29.
This is the second straight year Oklahoma has had a Heisman winner, with Murray following in the footsteps of Baker Mayfield. It also marks the first time since 1945-46 that different players from the same school won the award in back-to-back years (not counting Reggie Bush’s vacated Heisman for USC in 2005, which followed his teammate Matt Leinart).
Mayfield, who went on to become the first overall pick in this spring’s NFL draft, wrote on Instagram: “AND THATS WHAT WE CALL BACK TO BACK. YOU DESERVE IT K1, So proud of you man. Enjoy every second of it. Absolutely nobody can put a ceiling on you…. Football or baseball, follow your dreams brotha.”
While in New York, Murray received a “special little gift” from Mayfield with a note of encouragement in anticipation of the big night. Another A-list sports celebrity, Major League Baseball free agent Bryce Harper, texted his own well-wishes to Murray.
Before leading the Sooners this fall to a 12-1 record, a Big 12 Championship and an appearance in the playoff later this month, Murray was drafted ninth overall by the Oakland Athletics in this year’s MLB draft, agreeing to a $4.66 million signing bonus. Like Harper, he is represented by superagent Scott Boras.
Although Murray has another season of eligibility remaining and is also considered a potential first-round pick in the NFL draft, he has said he is prepared to give up football to focus on baseball.
“As of right now, everybody knows I’m playing [baseball],” Murray said, speaking to reporters after the award ceremony. “I’m not really focusing on it right now.”
If Murray does pursue baseball as planned, he could become only the third player to win the Heisman and play in the majors, after Bo Jackson and Vic Janowicz.
Oklahoma’s late-season Heisman campaign for Murray actually hearkened back Jackson, the 1985 Heisman winner who went on to star in both the NFL and MLB, and his “Bo Knows” Nike ads.
The A’s referenced the campaign in a congratulatory tweet.
“I’d like to do both if possible,” Murray said Friday about playing baseball and football. “But I don’t know how possible that is.”
Back in 2016, starting at quarterback at Oklahoma was virtually impossible for Murray. At the time, his primary focus instead was on keeping his mind clear of doubt and proving his value to himself and those within the Sooners’ sphere.
It was on June 2 that year when Oklahoma found out Mayfield, a walk-on-turned-transfer, would have a year of eligibility following his 2016 season. The day before, the conference had ruled Mayfield would be ineligible for 2017. The news of the reversal stunned school administrators and floored Murray and his family, who only months prior had agreed he would transfer from Texas A&M.
“That had a direct effect on Kyler,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “When we brought him in, there was an expectation that Baker was only going to be there one year.
“So a lot of people, a lot of families, wouldn’t have handled that well. And he did. His family did. They understood and he just said, ‘Whatever happens, happens. I’m here to work and get better, and the opportunity will come at the right time and I’ll keep doing that.'”
That opportunity wouldn’t come his first season in Norman, Oklahoma, and it didn’t come the year after.
With a benched Murray looking on during the 2017 season, Mayfield lit up opposing offenses in a runaway Heisman campaign.
After throwing for 40 touchdowns and leading the Sooners to the Big 12 title, Kyler Murray got Oklahoma back to the CFP.
“As hard as it may seem, which it was definitely difficult at times when I wasn’t playing, and I wanted to be out there, I just trusted the process,” Murray said. “It was easy to sit behind Bake because obviously he was so deserving of what he was doing. It wasn’t like he wasn’t doing his job. He did everything and more for us.
“So for me, it was easy. Just getting to learn behind him, and what he did at Oklahoma is part of the reason I’m standing up here today.”
Perhaps the most poignant part of Murray’s celebration speech was when he addressed Riley, referencing the challenge of remaining patient, and maintaining faith and trust in the coach.
“Nobody really knows how hard these past couple of years have been for me but you and my family,” Murray said as he and Riley visibly held back their emotions. “Through it all, you pushed me, you kept me going, kept me focused. You pushed me harder than any coach ever has. I just want to say thank you for believing in me and allowing me to be the quarterback of this team and the leader of this team.”
Murray’s Heisman win was far from a foregone conclusion, but with 517 first-place votes and 2,167 points, he still ended up with a fairly comfortable margin of 296 points over Tagovailoa, while Haskins was a distant third.
Murray was named on 92 percent of the Heisman ballots, third most all time. Of all ballots filed, 85 percent came in after the SEC championship game.
In addition to his passing stats, Murray ran for 892 yards and 11 touchdowns. His 51 touchdowns responsible for equaled Haskins for the most in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
When Murray faces No. 1 Alabama in three weeks, he’ll be on pace to become the first FBS starting quarterback to average at least 300 passing yards and 60 rushing yards per game.
“I didn’t expect to put up the numbers and the touchdowns and all that stuff, but I definitely knew if I trusted in myself and did my job, then we would end up in a good position,” Murray said. “When you do things right and you do things for the team, your individual goals, they come.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
The technical storage or access is strictly necessary for the legitimate purpose of enabling the use of a specific service explicitly requested by the subscriber or user, or for the sole purpose of carrying out the transmission of a communication over an electronic communications network.
The technical storage or access is necessary for the legitimate purpose of storing preferences that are not requested by the subscriber or user.
The technical storage or access that is used exclusively for statistical purposes.The technical storage or access that is used exclusively for anonymous statistical purposes. Without a subpoena, voluntary compliance on the part of your Internet Service Provider, or additional records from a third party, information stored or retrieved for this purpose alone cannot usually be used to identify you.
The technical storage or access is required to create user profiles to send advertising, or to track the user on a website or across several websites for similar marketing purposes.