I doubt Kyler Murray is getting much sleep these days.
The two-sport star is in the middle of Oklahoma’s backup QB competition, which is about as fierce as backup battles get. At the same time, he’s earned the crucial leadoff spot in Pete Hughes’s baseball lineup, which is battling the No. 2 team in the country for a series victory today. No pressure there.
Murray announced a year ago that he planned to be the latest two-sport star at Oklahoma. Talent-wise, that was no shock. Murray could have been a first-round baseball draft pick if he’d signed out of high school, but decided to keep his football dreams alive with a college career. He was going to play baseball for Texas A&M before deciding to transfer. Missing out on both seasons last year must have been a real bummer.
But logistically, this looked pretty difficult, especially so before the ruling that allowed Baker Mayfield to regain a year of eligibility. Can you imagine if Murray was battling for the starting job right now?
As it is, Murray’s job is stressful enough. But Bob Stoops and Lincoln Riley are totally on board, working hard with Hughes and his staff to share Murray as much as possible. Even for next week’s spring game, Murray will split time between a crucial Austin baseball series and a very public football scrimmage. It’s worth taking a step back to recognize how totally cool Stoops is being about this whole situation, and how much Murray is taking advantage. Stoops and Hughes just sat down, hashed out the schedule and figured out how to make it work. Kyler even said Riley checks in with him to make sure he’s not overworked.
Pete Hughes tells me Bob Stoops moved up practice time today so Kyler Murray could get to tonight's OU-TT baseball game. #Sooners— Toby Rowland (@TRowOU) March 31, 2017
I mean really, he moved up practice? To accommodate one dude? That’s pretty awesome, and it shows how much Bob is invested in Oklahoma athletics as a whole.
(For what it’s worth, Murray is batting .162/.367/.162 so far with 11 walks, 13 Ks and 7 steals. He missed a few weeks with a hamstring issue, but that was probably more about being cautious than being super hurt. He has yet to collect an extra-base hit so far this year, which would be nice to see, but on the whole he’s playing pretty well for a dude that missed two straight baseball seasons.)
Obviously, this isn’t Bob’s first go-around with a two-sport guy. Cody Thomas, for instance, was in a very similar position during his OU career. He eventually decided to focus on baseball and played well enough to get drafted into the Dodgers organization last summer, where he’s doing well.
For Kyler, the future is a little murkier. On the one hand, he has a pretty straightforward path to the starting QB job next season. He’s just flat-out more athletic than the guys he’ll be competing against, Austin Kendall and Cameron Rising. That doesn’t mean he’s a lock for the job — it just means he’s got plenty of talent to work with, and is probably the most similar to OU’s current QB.
On the other hand, he’s obviously not playing baseball just for kicks. He can talk about how he just missed playing, and I’m sure he did, but clearly he hasn’t closed the door on that possibility. Maybe it’s a backup plan. Maybe Murray is unsure about his NFL potential. But whatever it is, Murray’s going to have a lot to consider before next baseball season, especially if he finishes this one well.
By allowing Murray the flexibility to follow both his passions, Stoops is making a concession that he frankly doesn’t have to. But with all the talk about over-specialization in recent years, Stoops is walking the walk and showing kids they don’t have to choose immediately (if they happen to be, you know, supremely talented).
And Bob knows his football program will be better and healthier if its field general knows exactly who he is. So Bob’s giving him a chance to find himself.