Thu, 29 Oct 2020

Kyler Murray, High School Football Legend

Arizona Cardinals
15 Oct 2020, 18:03 GMT+10

Highlights are not hard to find.

The combination of Google and YouTube create plenty of opportunity for those who didn't see it firsthand to get a taste of Kyler Murray's epic, record-setting high school playing days. To peek at the quarterback weaving in and out of defenses, winging touchdown bombs, all captured in that grainy glory, is to get a sense of what eventually made him the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL.

Those details are best found there, too, because those who watched him live don't have a single play that resonates. Ask them, and they simply note there are too many to count, too many times when Murray created something out of nothing.

Yet there was one for Jalen Guyton that sticks. It wasn't Murray's most spectacular play, but it came in a spectacular comeback when Murray and Guyton were juniors, rallying from a 15-point second-half deficit in the state semifinals against rival DeSoto. Murray scampered 24 yards for the game-clinching touchdown with just seconds remaining, slowing down right before he crossed the goal line, savoring the moment.

"The touchdown he scored at the end was so Kyler Murray," said Guyton, a wide receiver now playing for the Los Angeles Chargers. "In a game that competitive, for him to be able to have the last laugh, 'I'm just going to keep the ball and make it happen.' It was so him.

" 'Wow, is Kyler Murray finally going to lose?' Mmmm, no, he is not."

He never did. With Murray arriving at Allen before his sophomore season, the Eagles won 43 games in a row, 42 of them with him as starter. (Murray sat out one game with an injury).

As Murray returns to Dallas for the first time as professional to play against the Cowboys on Monday night, his mythical high school career is embedded in Texas high school football lore. For a state that can treat prep football as pseudo-religion, he was a god.

Texas has produced plenty of great players. Of recent vintage alone, there was Drew Brees. Vince Young. Matthew Stafford was legendary as a schoolboy player. Running backs like Earl Campbell and Cedric Benson. But the best Texas has ever produced? Murray's resume catches the eye.

"I think he's more than in the conversation," said Matt Wixon, who spent 18 years as a Dallas Morning News high school sports columnist and covered Murray's career. "I think the majority of people put him No. 1."

With the sustained success at the highest level of competition in a state known for churning out excellence, Murray's prep greatness could even extend further. Murray even has the guy whom he displaced at quarterback - Oliver Pierce, a senior when Murray was a sophomore - backing his legend.

"Maybe I'm biased," Pierce said, "but he's got to be the best high school player of all-time, and I don't even think it's that close."

Tom Westerberg had known Kevin Murray for a long time. When Murray was a star quarterback at Texas A&M, Westerberg was a student manager there. As Westerberg later became entrenched as the head coach at Allen High School, Murray was a well-known quarterbacks coach in the area and had trained some of Allen's signal-callers.

So when Murray's son Kyler enrolled at Allen before his sophomore year, Westerberg had an idea what the younger Murray might be, even if most others did not.

"It was only a matter of time when he took over and did it for us," Westerberg said.

In the summer workouts before the school year, Kevin Murray made sure Kyler was throwing to receivers he would now be playing with, going as far as to reach out to kids that not only would be a part of the 2012 squad, but beyond - like Guyton, who wasn't slated for varsity until his junior season in 2013.

"The one thing I remember the most was, (Kyler) was the new kid and no one knew his name, but he was always like, 'Hey can you come out and throw with us tomorrow,' " Guyton said. "He showed a whole lot of work ethic and initiative.

"Allen already had a tremendous amount of culture, where we had the mission ourselves. But I will say (Kyler) just multiplied, just magnified the effect."

Pierce, the senior, was the starting QB. Westerberg put in some packages for Murray to run early in the season. But the shift started in Game 5, when Allen couldn't put away Coppell. Murray came into the game and helped get the Eagles into overtime before Coppell posted the upset.

"At that point we said we're fixing to pull the trigger and go with Kyler," Westerberg said. "We thought we were a better football team with him at quarterback and Oliver back at inside receiver."

Pierce acknowledged he was a "little upset at first" when Murray supplanted him at quarterback. And Pierce, who later attended Arizona State as a wrestler and has then returned to Allen as a wrestling and football coach, admitted people still will good-naturedly joke with him about losing his spot.

"For Oliver to do what he did was unselfish," Murray said.

But Pierce reveled in the state championship run that season. Later, when Murray's time at Texas A&M didn't work out and he transferred to Oklahoma and some wondered if Murray's magic was just in high school, Pierce had a sense of dejà vu.

"It was the same," Pierce said. "I told (people), 'Just wait. Just wait.' When you see him play, and you're around him and you see him in practice, you just kind of know. You could see, 'Man, he's about to take over.' "

Dominant high school players can post crazy statistics. Cardinals practice squad running back D.J. Foster, for instance, had 508 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns in a game.

The numbers Kyler Murray posted for his career are mind-numbing.

In three seasons at Allen, Murray threw for more than 10,000 yards and rushed for more than 4,000. His senior year alone he accounted for 79 touchdowns - 54 passing, 25 running. And that, Guyton said, was despite Murray not even playing in the fourth quarter of a number of games because of lopsided scores.

"Kyler Murray, from the time he was a sophomore, was the most polished quarterback I've ever seen in high school football," Wixon said. "His Dad had taught him. That's what made Kyler so special. He could throw, he could run - he's the fastest player I've ever seen running in pads. Had such vision and smarts and an arm like a cannon."

Pierce is "pretty sure" Murray completed the first 16 passes he threw in his first start as a sophomore. There were a couple of spectacular touchdown runs - one 65 yards - in his second start. Like he did at Oklahoma and with the Cardinals, when the play broke down, Murray was still dangerous.

"I'd say it definitely made it fun and a little bit easier on my part," said Allen teammate Bobby Evans, now a tackle with the Los Angeles Rams, "because if you messed up on a block, you knew he could get out of that situation."

The state championship games were never actually that close. Allen beat Lamar, 35-21, Murray's sophomore season; crushed Pearland, 63-28, when he was a junior; and whipped Cypress Ranch, 47-16, as a senior.

Those were three of the five high school games Murray played at AT&T Stadium, where he will face the Cowboys Monday.

"He played big in every big game that we had," Westerberg said. "It really didn't matter what the game was, semifinal games, state championship games where he was MVP three straight games. When the light came on and it was time for him to take over, he could."

There were times when that was needed.

Allen's state semifinal wins in both Murray's junior and senior years are the two that are most remembered. Both times, Allen's long winning streak was threatened. Both times, Murray starred in legendary comebacks.

The Eagles were down 15 to arch-rival DeSoto with 8:35 left in the game in 2013, before Murray drove Allen to two touchdowns and then finished it off with about 10 seconds to play with that aforementioned 24-yard touchdown run Guyton loved so much.

It was a two-point conversion pass to tie that game, when Murray rolled all the way to the right buying time and then heaved it all the way to the back left corner of the end zone to Guyton, that the quarterback himself thinks of first when recalling his high school career.

"Something not many people have seen or know about is the two-point conversion against DeSoto," Murray said. "You just had to be there. I can't really give you the feeling ... but it was a crazy game and moment."

His senior year, Allen was down 28-10 with eight minutes left in the third quarter. That was much too much time for Murray, who executed an amazing six straight touchdown drives - the first four, TD passes - and turned disaster into a 52-34 win with 406 yards passing and 115 yards rushing.

"To me the most special thing about Kyler is his mindset, his leadership ability, his competitive edge," Guyton said. "It's unmatched. He doesn't give a damn what the score is, who the opponent is. He was always, 'If I can have the ball in my hands one more time, we're going to come out on top.' "

Murray was doing press conferences by the time he was 14 or 15 years old, because he was the star on that stage. Yet, whether it was in front of cameras or on the field, he never seemed flustered, Wixon said.

Ticking off some of the stars Allen went up against while he played there - Myles Garrett, Jamal Adams, Ed Oliver, Solomon Thomas among them - Murray has pride not just about the winning streak, but who Allen went through to get it.

"We played them all and we beat them all," Murray said. "That time will always be special to me."

It's a resume that's unparalleled.

"Kyler did not make them," Wixon said. "They'd be a good team without him. But he bailed their (expletive) out so many times in big games. He was the reason they won three state championships and 42 in a row.

"There's so much talent (in Texas) it's ridiculous," Wixon added, "and Allen would always find a way to win because Kyler Murray would find a way to win."

Then-college coach Kliff Kingsbury knew Kevin Murray. So he knew about Kyler too, even from the time Kyler was playing pee-wee and, Kyler noted, the fields were encircled with fans even then watching him play.

"I had heard kind of the lore of Kyler as he grew up and his athletic accomplishments," Kingsbury said. "Then his freshman year (at Lewisville High School), you started to hear a lot more about him in that Dallas area. Sophomore year, he was starting (at Allen) and putting on a show."

Murray acknowledged the spotlight of playing for a big-time high school football program in Texas - "I enjoy all the love. We earned that at Allen," he said - and the competition even stretched to the gear different schools were getting from their Nike deals. Guyton said Allen sometimes felt "overlooked" compared to "flashy" DeSoto, which was sending a couple dozen players to Division I schools. When Murray said in high school Allen - despite its unreal success and winning streak - felt like underdogs in games such as the DeSoto and Skyline playoff matchups, it only underscored what was at stake.

Then again, Murray was always ultra-competitive, a reputation he freely acknowledges he has earned. In high school, he'd hang out with Guyton, future Northern Illinois defensive back Mayomi Olootu and future BYU offensive lineman Tejan Koroma, battling with video games or anything else they could find.

"As soon as we stepped off the football field, (it was) instantly about (NBA) 2K, Madden, who's got the best My Player, who is ranked the highest in this or that," Guyton said. "We'd all hang out and compete about everything. Who was eating the most at Chipotle, who's got the most (scholarship) offers. Everything. Kyler is one of the most competitive people you'll ever meet. It gets annoying after awhile."

That's the drive that got him to this return engagement in Dallas on "Monday Night Football," playing at a level his prep teammates were sure he'd reach.

"You knew all along," Evans said. "You just knew it. No matter what they said about his height and all that. If you think about it, he had me and (Panthers lineman) Greg Little for the tackles, he was used to seeing league height."

Pierce still sees Murray. Pierce's father runs Performance Course, the offseason training spot for the Allen players and where Murray's personal trainer still works. Kevin Murray trains Pierce's younger brother.

Paying attention to Murray's return Monday night is a given, but only to a certain extent. Westerberg, who left Allen in 2016 (with a 148-17 record) to take a job in Houston at Barbers Hill High School, said he has his own game the following Friday and can't miss practice by making a trip to Dallas.

Even Pierce said the Allen staff will be "watching from a distance" because of their own game prep. Still, "I always root for Kyler," Pierce said.

"People would come back from the league and say these will be the best years you'll ever have playing football," Guyton said. "I'd roll my eyes and be like, 'Hell no. There was no way you could convince me that playing for free and going to school is better.' But it really is."

Murray has tried to sidestep talk about his emotions for this game - "I'm not trying to make this a huge deal" - because the Cardinals' needs against the Cowboys supersedes all.

But the quarterback cherishes those seasons he played in Allen for the Eagles, a three-year stretch that may never be duplicated.

"Time flies as soon as you leave high school, and for me personally, if I could, I would go back in a heartbeat just because it was that much fun," Murray said. "It's a time that you'll never get back, and that's kind of where it all starts."

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