Published August 24, 2010
NORMAN, Okla. – While preparing for his final season at Oklahoma, DeMarco Murray resorted to violence. He's giving peace a chance, too.
Murray, a senior who is expected to carry the No. 7 Sooners' running game, is ready for just about anything after a variety of workouts in his first healthy offseason since arriving in Norman.
Murray has tried out mixed martial arts training as a way to stay in shape. He's been doing pilates, is just starting on yoga and has been testing stretches recommended to him by NFL players.
Anything that could help him stay on the field, Murray is willing to try. Although he's missed only a handful of games during three seasons with the Sooners, Murray enters his final year with an unwanted reputation of being injury-prone.
"I guess it's more of a mindset for me. Just do the little things that I can prepare myself to stay healthy and stay on the field, stay practicing and not taking days off," Murray said. "It's really not a goal for me. That's something I can't control."
The injuries that have sidelined Murray stand out for being freakish and untimely. In 2007, he dislocated his kneecap while trying to recover an onside kick in the Sooners' late-season loss at Texas Tech that knocked them out of the national championship picture.
The following year, he ruptured a tendon in his left hamstring during the Big 12 championship game and missed the chance to play for the BCS title. Last year, he found himself among a slew of Sooners sidelined by injuries — this time an ankle — during a disappointing 8-5 season.
"It's not like he's got bad luck because he's special and he's got a lot of good luck," offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. "He's made as many great plays, one of the flashiest players, one of our touchdown leaders in school history and got a chance to be the all-time guy."
Indeed, Murray enters his senior year on pace to break Oklahoma's career records for touchdowns held by 1969 Heisman Trophy winner Steve Owens and all-purpose yards set by Hall of Famer Joe Washington. It would take a monster season — 1,648 yards — but he's even within range of 1978 Heisman winner Billy Sims' career rushing mark.
For the first time in his career, Murray will be the featured back for the Sooners. He spent his first three seasons splitting carries with Chris Brown, who came on late in 2006 after Adrian Peterson was hurt and while Murray was redshirting.
Murray then matched Peterson's Oklahoma freshman record with 15 touchdowns — 13 rushing and two on kickoff returns — the following year and set the school record for all-purpose yards in 2008 as the Sooners made it to the BCS championship game.
But Murray missed the postseason both of those years with injuries that seem to overshadow how much he's already accomplished.
Now, coach Bob Stoops wants Murray to have a Peterson-type workload — as long as he can do so without breaking down.
"We're counting on him to have a big year," Stoops said. "He's got great experience, so hopefully we can give him the opportunity of a few more snaps, a few more carries and a few more touches even out of the backfield to give him opportunities for those big plays."
Murray has spent the offseason experimenting with different ways to get ready for his last go-round.
He and safety Quinton Carter spent about three weeks home in Las Vegas doing MMA training at a friend's gym. He left the 2½-hour workouts feeling as tired as he had ever been, but at the end of it all his conditioning and stamina had improved.
"I didn't do any running or anything," Murray said. "That's all I did was jump ropes and boxing and lift, and I came back in great shape."
Back in Norman, he traded the octagon for something more serene. Strength coach Jerry Schmidt introduced him to pilates, and his first yoga class was Tuesday. Along with the stretches passed along to him from his NFL brethren, Murray said he can feel himself loosening up earlier.
"I'll try anything to keep me flexible, to keep me on the field," he said.
For Murray, that's the bottom line because his main concern is staying fit for the long haul. Coaches have been allowing him to take more consecutive snaps in practice without substitution, although they're still limiting his exposure to contact the same way they kept him out of spring scrimmages.
"The stronger he practices and the more he practices, the stronger he's going to play. And I think he has that mindset," Wilson said. "Hopefully, he's going to have a great year — a big number year."
The trick is finding the right practice regimen to get Murray ready for 20 or more carries per game without putting him at risk. Just where that falls is just about impossible since, as Wilson points out, "you may get hurt crossing the street."
"I think anything is possible but I'm not looking forward to breaking anybody's records or anything like that. That's not one of my goals to do," Murray said. "Whatever I do whenever I'm out there, I'm going to play hard, as hard as I can, and just play like it's my last down."