Becoming Kyler Murray: Cardinals quarterback refined skills in heart of football country

Becoming Kyler Murray: Cardinals quarterback refined skills in heart of football country
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By Alex Simon/Cronkite News | Sept. 6, 2019

ALLEN, Texas – When Kyler Murray showed up to his first team event at Allen High School after transferring to the school in the summer of 2012, the team’s senior starting quarterback and captain had a pretty quick and clean reaction.

“I laugh at it now, but I was like ‘… that guy,’” said Oliver Pierce, using a colorful verb. “I was like, ‘I ain’t helping him out.’”

It was a reaction a coach would expect from Pierce, who grew up in Allen and dreamed of suiting up as the school’s quarterback one day. Instead, here comes the son of former Texas A&M quarterback Kevin Murray, looking to play the position he was slated to start.

Pierce can laugh about his reaction now because he and Murray remain good friends, even after Murray ended up taking his job during the 2012 season.

And all that Murray has accomplished from that point – three-straight Texas state championships, a 43-0 record as a starter in high school, the ninth overall selection in the 2018 MLB Draft, a Heisman Trophy and the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft – is rooted in that moment.

Pierce doesn’t spend much energy mulling Murray’s achievements at this point. He’s come to expect greatness.

“I’m not really surprised anymore. Like, I didn’t even watch the (NFL) Draft,” Pierce said. “I was just like, ‘He’s going No. 1.’ Heisman winner, No. 1 pick in the draft, It’s pretty incredible. Pretty insane.”

With his first regular-season game in the NFL coming this Sunday when Murray suits up for the Arizona Cardinals, the quarterback said he’s “very excited” about his first crack at professional football.

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“First chance as a team to go out and play somebody else,” Murray said on Wednesday. “For me, playing the game of football – obviously there’s a lot of emotions going on – but I always like to keep calm and be myself, trust the game plan, trust myself, and trust my teammates going into it. Go out there, play my game, and let the chips fall where they may.”

Playing his game has worked so far for the 5-foot-10, 207-pound 22-year-old. And with Murray saying there will be “quite a bit” of people coming in to watch him, the path he took to this moment has him ready for this stage.

But no matter what his NFL career turns out to be, he’s already a legend in Allen, Texas, and Norman, Oklahoma.

An impactful move

Murray grew up in Lewisville, a suburban city just north of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and just over 20 miles east of Allen. The city officially incorporated in 1925 but people have lived on the southern side of the Lewisville Lake as far back as the 1840s.

Murray attended Lewisville High School for his freshman year, when both Allen and Lewisville were in the same district and division.

Allen’s varsity coach at the time, Tom Westerberg, remembers talking with then-Lewisville coach Dick Olin about Murray since Westerberg had been using Kevin Murray as a quarterback coach for some of his players. But Westerberg missed out on a chance to watch Kevin’s son play because of Mother Nature.

“Allen and Lewisville were actually going to play each other, but the week we were going to play their freshmen team with Kyler at quarterback, a big, huge storm came through, so we had to cancel the game,” Westerberg said. “So, he never played against us and I never got to watch him play until he moved to Allen.”

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That move occurred just in time for Murray to come to the start of fall practices. For Pierce, then a senior and the expected starting quarterback, the thing about Murray that stood out was his size – or lack thereof.

“He wasn’t that big,” Pierce said. “I wasn’t big either, but he didn’t have muscle. He was, like, a kid.”

Murray practically was.

His birthday is Aug. 7, meaning he turned 15 just before the Eagles played their first game in his sophomore season. The Texas high school age cutoff date is Sept. 1, which made Murray one of the youngest people in his high school class. The contrast in age stood out to Pierce, who was held back a year.

“This kid’s more than three years younger than me and we’re two grades apart, so I’m way older than him,” Pierce said. “But when he would throw that ball, he could spin it.”

Westerberg stuck with Pierce as his starter in the first game of 2012, an occasion that received plenty of attention nationally.