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Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray's talent stands out as much as his story

Mature beyond his years, Sooners star is attractive first-round draft prospect

Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray
Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray

INDIANAPOLIS – There are serious doubts whether Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray will last until the Packers' pick, No. 30, in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft.

There are absolutely no worries about his maturity and character, though.

Murray met the media on Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and provided personal off-the-field details that make maybe the top inside linebacker in this draft even more attractive as any locker room's defensive leader.

First, the son of a pastor and retired police officer has played a significant role in raising three children with special needs his parents adopted when he was an 11-year-old fifth grader.

Nyia, James and Lenny are all afflicted with an extremely rare chromosomal defect that has hindered their growth and development in significant ways. The condition affects the two boys the most, rendering them both unable to talk and one unable to walk.

Helping out his parents whenever he can, Murray certainly has had an impact on his siblings' lives. The 11-year-old James' face lights up when he hears Murray's voice, and he and the 14-year-old Lenny love it when their big brother carries them around the house. ("Both of them look like they're 5 years old" due to their condition, Murray said.)

But more important to Murray, they've had an indelible impact on him as well, in part because they readily find happiness in their lives despite all their limitations.

"It really changed my life to be honest," Murray said of his family expanding a little over a decade ago. "Seeing my little brothers not being able to play sports just makes me grateful for what I have and the ability I have.

"It makes me want to go out there and give it my best every time because literally on an everyday basis I see two little brothers who can't do what everybody else can do."

If that doesn't say enough about Murray, he literally saved a stranger's life last year, too.

One random day, driving home from church with his girlfriend, Murray witnessed an accident that left a woman lying on the ground unconscious and bleeding from her head.

He rushed over, started CPR – which he learned working as a counselor at a community center for less fortunate kids that was affiliated with his father's church – and "got between 70 to 80 pumps in, finally got her revived, got her back to breathing, and then the paramedics arrived."

As a star linebacker on one of the best college football teams in the country, Murray actually tried to slip away from the scene to not draw attention to himself, but a fellow student who happened to work on the school newspaper saw him and followed up a couple of days later.

"For me, it wasn't about the recognition," he said. "I happened to be in the right place at the right time to help somebody in need."

He's fine with the recognition that comes his way on the football field, and there's been plenty of it. The third-team Associated Press All-America selection became an instant starter for the Sooners as a true freshman and started all 42 games over the last three years.

The 6-foot-2, 241-pounder racked up 335 total tackles in that time, including 37 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Two seasons ago, he played alongside Curtis Bolton, one of the Packers top undrafted rookies from 2019 who was headed for a roster spot until tearing an ACL in the preseason. He calls Bolton, who will make another run at getting his NFL career started in 2020, a player with "a natural nose for the ball."

Murray is an ever-present defender who plays with a "hunter's mentality," to use his phrase. He never watches TV during the football season because he's studying five or six hours of game film daily, arriving at the team facility at 5:45 a.m. to start his routine.

"I try to pattern my game after guys like Luke Kuechly, and seeing how smart he is, how much time he puts into the film room, I think that's extremely critical for being a really good linebacker," Murray said. "Seeing all those plays, getting my little hints and stuff before the game, being able to put my teammates in better position to make plays is definitely the type of guy I am."

One part of his game he thinks is overlooked is his smarts. He's been Oklahoma's defensive signal-caller since he arrived and believes he can step right into the NFL to assume the same role.

He's using the interviews at the combine – his first of several formal ones was with the Packers – to emphasize that aspect of his abilities.

"Making calls, making checks, being a leader is something I'm good at, something I'm naturally born to do," he said. "Just be a general of the defense."

He'll be that sooner than later (pun intended) in the NFL, and any team like the Packers with a significant need at inside linebacker would likely have a hard time passing on him come April's first round.

Any teams targeting him will wonder how long he'll last. His story answers any other questions they might have.

"I tell people all the time I feel like I raised three kids already, just being the oldest out of all of them, having to be able to take care of them, help my parents," he said. "That's pretty much how I came up, pretty much how my family is, and that's who I am."